Growing cilantro
June 13, 2016 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I am a serial killer. A cilantro-plant serial killer. Help me stop.

By now I've figured out that my soil isn't well-draining enough (typical brand-name 'vegetable' potting soil they sell in most lawn and garden stores), and that my bright-ass balcony (faces the north/northeast and gets progressively sunnier and hottier as the day continues) may also be contributing to my cilantro getting too dry too quickly, or scaring me into overwatering it so that it inevitably turns yellow.

Also, harvesting. How do I properly harvest this stuff? The last batch I harvested... it was like it stunted the cilantro's growth. This was in late April, so I blame it more on the doom and gloom raincloud that didn't leave the DC area for the entire month of May. But. Is it possible that I cut too much from the top? Too little?

Either way, I know I must be doing more than one thing wrong.

What are the highly effective habits of successful cilantro growers?

P.S. US plant hardiness zone 7a, if it matters. Also, this is not an issue I have with most other plants. I just seem to be a complete idiot when it comes to cilantro.
posted by nightrecordings to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Did the cilantro bolt (start throwing up weird shoots with strange leaves that if left alone turn to flowers)? That's a thing that cilantro does quickly, faster than other herbs. When it bolts it stops sending nutrients to the leaves and sends everything to the flowers, and any leaves left turn yellow.

My understanding is that heat makes it bolt faster. I got 6 weeks out of my cilantro this spring which was a record for me, but we had a very cool wet spring. Now that it's hot I may not even try to re-plant because it is so disappointing to only get a couple weeks of harvest out of it. (I'm in Chicago with a south-facing 4th floor patio that gets tons of sun.)

If it matters, I was harvesting a couple times a week. I'd select what looked like older "branches" and cut them off at the base of the plant to give the new young leaves opportunity to get sunlight and grow.
posted by misskaz at 4:51 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

For clarification: I haven't let it get to the "bolt" stage in the past year or two, thankfully; it just seems to be very delicate (in my experience, not objectively) and is either easily burnt, easily wilted, easily yellowed or gets stubborn about the idea of any regrowth after one or two harvests/cuttings.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:55 PM on June 13, 2016

No, I think it's just delicate. I have chives and two kinds of parsley that are 14 months old and I've had like 7 cilantros die right next to them.

I only recently found out that cilantro root is a common Thai recipe (hell, as far as I can tell they don't use the leaf?) which cements my belief that you're meant to grow a shitload of staggered cilantro that isn't going to last long rather than keep a single cilantro plant for long.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:36 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Can you find it a friend, like lettuce, to shield it from heat and keep it cooler, and sow more frequently--maybe five plants a week?

I wish I could find a way to store it; it's the worst in that regard.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:52 PM on June 13, 2016

cilanto re-seeds itself (down here in Louisiana.) we bring some in at different stages so we can have herbs year 'round. otherwise it shoots up in stalks, pretty small white flowers, then to seed.
we have 2 or 3 types in the heavily sunned front yard and a type or two in the shaded backyard.
If you have pots on a balcony place several in varying levels of shade.
you can freeze culled cilantro, flash freeze then seal in bags.
assuming it freezes up north, pull your pots into a sunny indoor spot. cilantro's hardy and will re-seed next year. your inside pots'll see you through the <35f days.
posted by Twist at 6:05 PM on June 13, 2016

I have had the best luck with huuuuuge planting containers. I'd recommend putting other leafy plants right next to it in the same container. Water daily.

I have had _some_ luck with cilantro here in North Carolina (piedmont region - fairly hot, but not Atlanta hot).

We also have, in the past, used a homemade potting mix made from composted manure, vermiculite, and (I think) maybe some peat moss or other organic material (or it might have been just compost & vermiculite). It was lighter than I expected, and I didn't think it would work, but it was great -- my dude found the recipe in a container gardening/raised bed gardening book. Victory gardening? Don't remember.

However, I just found one - two different pages with very promising potting mix recipes.

The disparaging remarks I found about commercial potting mixes totally match my experience.

Fafard potting mix has been pretty good, though I do add composted manure regularly.

I just read something that recommended growing cilantro from seed, since it apparently has a taproot and doesn't do well when transplanted (although I've grown transplanted cilantro in the past).
posted by amtho at 6:25 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

While I would argue that you are doing the world a net good by systematically any annihilating cilantro plants you encounter, the gardner in me feels the need to mention that cilantro doesn't really like heat. (You know you can collect coriander seeds once the cilantro bolts, right? Coriander seeds are the only justifiable reason for cilantro's existence.)
posted by mudpuppie at 6:51 PM on June 13, 2016

The only cilantro I successfully grow is apocalypse cilantro. You let it flower (good for bees!), watch it go to seed, crumble the seed pods that you don't want to cook with, and wait for a field of cilantro to grow the next spring. It's always the third thing to grow in my garden (first is tarragon, second is chives), and I can only get about 1.5 rounds of cilantro to grow before fall comes. Rarely do I have enough cilantro when my tomatoes are ripe. So I guess the question is, do you want cilantro when you want it? (Hard). Or do you want it when it actually grows?
posted by Maarika at 7:11 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I will say I do use commercial garden mix, pretty much straight out of the bag and then after 6-8 months (when there's some kind of turnover in the container that lets me do this) I start removing some mix and amending with organic fertilizer pellets and bagged chicken poop from Lowe's. I have to put the poop and the fertilizer under a layer of soil because my dogs are disgusting.

All my other stuff loves this mix. I get enormous pepper plants and cheerfully bushy basil and all that. Cilantro just is meant for some alien planet, I think.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:25 AM on June 14, 2016

I grow everything in containers and can easily nurture forests of parsley, dill, lovage, and other herbs related to cilantro. But cilantro is a delicate goddamn PITA. I've tried growing it from seed and have a hard time coaxing it into hardy plants; they tend to either dry out or drown. I've tried growing from young plants bought at the nursery and they often thrive for a minute but bolt on a whim, even before it gets really hot. Some years I have better luck than others for mysterious and ineffable reasons.

Try a large container in a light/bright color in heavy enough material to insulate the soil from the heat of the sun a little more. Thick glazed ceramic, double-walled plastic, wood, etc. No unglazed terra-cotta or thinner plastic/resin.

A good "vegetable" potting mix should actually be fine as long as your container has good drainage. Maybe add a little vermiculite. I must say that I don't like typical brand-name-brand potting mix at all since I started using this Frey's potting mix, which is fantastic to work with IMO. I can get it from my local urban farm/nursery.
posted by desuetude at 2:29 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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