While cilantro’s distinctive flavor may not appeal to everyone, it’s a personal favorite of mine in my kitchen garden. I relish the peppery and slightly lemony essence that fresh cilantro from the garden brings, a taste unmatched by its grocery store counterparts.
The cilantro from the supermarket also has a frustratingly short shelf life; you’ve likely experienced the disappointment of pulling out wilted cilantro leaves for Taco Tuesday when they were fresh just the day before on Meatless Monday. It’s a culinary letdown.
Fortunately, growing cilantro in your garden is a relatively straightforward endeavor, ensuring a steady supply of fresh leaves right at your fingertips. Cilantro seeds are generously sized and easily distinguishable, making them a breeze to sow in the right spots. This plant is relatively resilient to pests and diseases, with one primary challenge: bolting.
Why Does Cilantro Bolt?
Bolting is the process whereby a cilantro plant develops a thick central stalk and tiny flower heads, signifying its transition to seed production. Regrettably, cilantro is particularly susceptible to early bolting, often occurring as soon as three to four weeks after planting. The seeds produced by cilantro are known as coriander, which, intriguingly, are also edible and a common spice.
So, why is bolting undesirable even though the seeds can be consumed? The transformation results in the leaves changing shape, becoming more feathery, resembling carrot leaves rather than the broad, lush leaves that we typically purchase from grocery stores. Additionally, the leaves lose much of their flavor, affecting the enjoyment of their delightful taste for weeks, if not months.
Although the entire plant remains edible, including the flowers, the objective is to prolong the time before bolting occurs by cultivating cilantro under ideal conditions.
how to keep cilantro from bolting
Here are some tips to extend the life of your cilantro in the garden and deter bolting.
1. Plant Cilantro Early in the Cool Season
Cilantro and tomatoes are often associated in culinary combinations like salsa, but they do not harmonize in the garden. These two herbs favor distinct weather conditions. While cilantro plants are frequently available for purchase during late spring and summer, ideally planted next to tomato plants in garden stores, they should not be sown simultaneously. Cilantro thrives when sown in the early cool season. This means planting it in spring as soon as the threat of frost has passed. For regions with extended winters, consider starting seeds indoors to maximize growth before the herb bolts in response to rising temperatures.
2. Sow Cilantro Seeds Directly
If possible, begin your cilantro crop from seeds sown directly into the garden. Plants grown from direct seed sowing generally exhibit slower bolting tendencies than those acquired as seedlings and transplanted. Cilantro belongs to the carrot family, and like other members, such as celery, parsley, dill, and carrots, it dislikes transplanting. Direct sowing minimizes disruption, promoting a happier and healthier plant.
3. Opt for Slow Bolt Seed Varieties
Seek seed packets labeled as “slow bolt cilantro” or “long-standing,” which are cultivated to resist early bolting. Quality options like Seeds of Change, which are 100% certified organic, are known for their effectiveness. Another wise approach is to procure seeds from a local supplier, increasing your chances of extending your cilantro’s longevity by using a variety adapted to your specific climate.
4. Regularly Harvest Your Cilantro
Frequent harvesting of cilantro leaves not only maintains plant health but also ensures you enjoy the freshest possible leaves. Consistently cut the older, outer leaves to encourage the growth of new leaves from the center of the plant. The more you harvest, the greater the chance of preventing the premature development of flower stalks, delaying bolting. While cilantro is ultimately predisposed to bolting, you can delay this process by promptly removing the central thick stalk. This action prompts the plant to generate side shoots, offering you a bit more cilantro before bolting concludes.
5. Employ Shade-Providing Tall Plants
Plant tall, warm-season crops like tomatoes or peppers around your cilantro to create partial shade, ensuring the soil remains cooler as temperatures rise. Cilantro doesn’t demand full sun but requires around four to six hours of sunlight. Interplanting cilantro with larger herbs extends the plant’s lifespan in your garden.
6. Practice Successive Planting
Succession planting may not prevent bolting but ensures a continual supply of fresh cilantro for numerous culinary endeavors. Succession planting involves direct sowing new seeds in the garden every few weeks. As one set of cilantro plants starts bolting, another set is maturing, ready for harvest.
When Cilantro Bolts
When your cilantro begins bolting, it’s time to harvest and save the coriander seeds. Each white flower can transform into a delightful spice for your kitchen or serve as seeds for the following season’s planting. You’ll have an ample supply of cilantro for an extended period. Furthermore, cilantro flowers are not only edible and attractive but also excellent for attracting pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.
Intriguingly, cilantro and tomatoes briefly align their growing seasons. Just as my cilantro begins to bolt and produces exquisite white flowers, my tomato and pepper plants start thriving. The beneficial insects attracted to cilantro flowers inadvertently transfer pollen to your fruit-bearing plants, enhancing fruit production. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship!
Leave Bolting Cilantro in the Garden
Although bolting means you lose delicious leaves, the plant continues to provide seeds and nourishes pollinators. Cilantro is a generous herb, even when you believe it has run its course.
Thank you for joining the journey of making gardening a more accessible and enjoyable experience!