Leafy green cilantro is really two herbs in one. Its aromatic seeds, called coriander, are used in candy and pastries. Its tangy foliage, known as cilantro (or Chinese parsley), is a staple in Spanish, Asian, and other international cuisines. Surprisingly, the flavor of the seeds differs from the flavor of the foliage. Coriander seeds are fragrant while cilantro leaves are pungent.
In the Landscape
Cilantro is a cool-weather annual that grows 2 to 3 feet tall in spring or fall. A delicate plant with lacy leaves, it bears white or pinkish blossoms when the weather gets warm. Use cilantro as a back-of-the-border plant, or plant it in a bed devoted to annuals, such as dill, where it can reseed.
Planting and Care
Grow cilantro in full sun and well-drained soil with a pH of 6.6; it will tolerate light shade in the lower South.
Fall is the best time to plant cilantro in Zones 8, 9, and 10, where it rarely freezes enough to kill the plant. Cilantro seedlings are evergreen in winter throughout most of the South. If you live north of Zone 6, plant it in the spring after danger of frost is past.
Because it has delicate roots, cilantro is difficult to transplant. For best results, plant it during cool, moist weather. It is best to sow the seeds where they are to grow. Keep the seeds moist until germination. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, you will need to thin them to 10 inches apart.
Once the plant blooms, foliage becomes scarce, so for a steady supply of fresh foliage, make successive sowings every three to four weeks through fall. Fertilize with a balanced liquid fertilizer after heavy harvesting.
The flowers eventually turn into light brown fruit with an edible inner seed. While the fresh seeds and foliage have a pungent odor, the ripe seeds become more fragrant as they dry. Cilantro reseeds and returns the following year.
Species and Selections
There are several different selections of this herb, some better for foliage than for seeds. The selections Slow-Bolting and Long Standing resist going to seed and produce a good crop of leaves over a long period.