Grow Your Own Cilantro
While the taste may not be for everyone, cilantro is one of my favorite plants to grow in my kitchen garden. I love the peppery and slightly lemony flavor fresh from the garden, which you just can't quite match if you buy cilantro varieties from a grocery store.
Cilantro is pretty easy to grow in the garden. The seeds are nice and big, so it's easy to separate them and put them in the right spots. The seeds, which we call coriander, are actually edible, too; in fact, you may recognize that name from your spice rack.
Why Does Cilantro Bolt?
Bolting is when your plant produces a thick central stem and tiny flower heads (pictured above) in preparation for seed production, and unfortunately, cilantro is very prone to bolting early if the weather warms up.
Why is that bad if we can also eat the seeds? Well, the leaves will change shape, becoming more feathery, and lose a lot of their flavor, and those of us who love the taste of the leaves want to be able to enjoy them for several weeks, if not months. While the entire plant is still edible, flowers and all, your goal is to prevent your plant from bolting as long as possible by growing it under its preferred conditions.
Let's look at some tips to keep your cilantro in the garden as long as possible without it bolting.
How to keep cilantro from bolting
Tip #1 - The Best Time to Plant Cilantro Is Early in the Cool Season
Cilantro does not like hot weather. That's just a fact. Even though you may find cilantro plants for sale at your local nursery during the late spring or summer months, that doesn't mean that cilantro should actually be planted in the garden at the same time as tomatoes, which prefer completely different weather.
The best time to plant your cilantro is early in your cool season. That means plant it in the spring as soon as the threat of frost has passed. If you live some place where winter tends to linger, consider starting your seeds indoors so that you get as much growing time as possible before your herb bolts when the temperatures rise.
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Tip #2 - Sow Your Cilantro Directly From Seed
If at all possible, start your cilantro from seed that you sow directly into the garden. Plants sown from seed tend to bolt slower than those purchased as seedlings and transplanted into the garden.
Cilantro is in the carrot family, and plants in the carrot family (including cilantro, celery, parsley, dill, and carrots, obviously) don't really like being moved around. By direct sowing your cilantro, you are disrupting it less, which means a happier and healthier plant.
Tip #3 - Look for Slow Bolt Seed Varieties When Buying Cilantro Seeds
Look for seed packets that say "slow bolt cilantro" or "long standing", both of which have been bred to last longer in the garden. My favorite slow bolt seeds are from Seeds of Change, and they’re 100% certified organic. Another good idea would be to find a seed producer in your area. Purchasing local seeds ups your chances of keeping your cilantro longer because it means growing a variety of cilantro that is used to your climate.
Tip #4 - Harvest Your Cilantro Regularly
Cut your cilantro leaves on a regular basis. This not only keeps the plant healthy, it also ensures you're enjoying leaves from this herb at their freshest. Regular harvesting by cutting the older, outer leaves encourages your cilantro to continue producing new leaves from the center of the plant.
Also, the more you harvest your cilantro, the more chance you have of snipping off those immature flower stalks. This will help delay any bolting.
When your plant does inevitably start to bolt, cut that thick center stalk right away. The plant will then send out some side shoots, and you'll get a little bit of extra cilantro before the plant finally gives up and bolts altogether.
Tip #5 - Plant Tall Plants Around Your Cilantro for Sun Protection
Plant large warm season plants (such as tomato or pepper plants) around your cilantro so that these taller plants can provide a little bit of shade for your herbs and keep the soil cooler as the temperatures rise. After all, cilantro doesn't need full sun to grow—just four to six hours is enough. Interplanting your cilantro with larger plants will help extend your cilantro's life in the garden.
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Tip #6 - Successively Plant Your Cilantro
Succession planting won't exactly help keep your cilantro from bolting, but it will give you a continuous supply of fresh cilantro. Succession planting is when you direct sow new seeds into the garden every couple of weeks. When one set of cilantro plants starts to bolt, you'll have another set of cilantro plants coming along behind it that will be ready to harvest.
What to Do When Your Cilantro Bolts
Once your plant goes to seed, it's time to harvest and save your own coriander seeds. Now you're set to plant those seeds next year and have cilantro for the rest of your life!
Bonus, those cilantro flowers are not only edible and beautiful, they're also great for pollinators. Bees, butterflies, and ladybugs all adore cilantro flowers. My cilantro plants usually begin to bolt and produce beautiful white flowers just as my tomato and pepper plants are taking off. Beneficial insects hanging out on your cilantro flowers will bump into your fruiting plants, vibrate their leaves, and aid in pollination so that your plants produce as much fruit as possible for you. It’s really a win-win!
To learn more tips for your herb garden, read five useful tips to grow cilantro. Let's get your herb garden growing!
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