Cilantro is one of the basic herbs you’ll see in any garden, whether it’s a full backyard garden or a beginner herb garden. It’s relatively easy to grow and care for and is a commonly desired herb for cooking, so it has earned its place as an essential herb.
Because it’s such a staple, it deserves a place in your garden, whatever that looks like. Cilantro is very easy to grow indoors, so if that’s all you have to work with, no problem! Maybe you live in an apartment without a backyard, you’re growing in a container garden, or just need to move the herb indoors due to weather. Whatever your situation, this guide will lead you to successful cilantro growth!
Fresh cilantro bundles.
You may be wondering, what’s the difference between cilantro and coriander? You may have heard both used interchangeably, and the names of the seeds can be really confusing.
Thankfully, it’s actually much simpler than the confusion makes it out to be. The plant coriandrum sativum produces tasty leaves that are used as a fresh herb, called cilantro. At the end of its life cycle, it produces flowers and seeds that are also super flavorful. The seeds are referred to as coriander.
This edible plant is a favorite for many reasons and could soon become a favorite in your garden too.
Why is Cilantro So Popular?
Cilantro has established itself as a classic and favorite herb all over the world, as a staple of Mexican, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Italian cuisines, just to name a few. This herb has an incredible taste with notes of citrus and a powerful fresh flavor.
The seeds are also central to many cuisines. In some traditions, like in India, they use the seeds for seasoning while they’re fresh. In most places, the seeds are collected and dried, from there they can be cracked or ground into a powder for seasoning, much like with pepper seeds.
Cilantro on top of tacos.
Its strong flavor also means a strong scent, which makes it a great companion herb to fend off pests. The strong scent often repels unwanted bugs, while the flowers that bloom attract pollinators to your garden.
Also, cilantro grows well in mild climates and doesn’t require much in terms of optimal conditions. So, your indoor space is likely already a good climate for cilantro! Cilantro is sensitive to extreme weather, so as long as your indoor growing space isn’t super hot or cold, you shouldn’t have much difficulty growing cilantro.
So, let’s get into the steps for growing fresh cilantro indoors!
As with all planting projects, starting with quality soil is the most important step you can take to make sure the rest of the process goes well. This is especially true when you’re growing indoors, since the plant doesn’t have access to a larger space where it can spread its roots and grab nutrients.
Thankfully, cilantro doesn’t require anything super particular. In general, cilantro grows well with a neutral pH soil, which means you don’t have to worry much about cultivating a particular soil.
You’ll want to start off with a nutritious soil. Ideally, if you have a compost you should add some compost material mixed with fibrous material like coconut fibers or alfalfa meal.
If you don’t have compost accessible to you, no problem! Regular potting soil will work as long as it’s healthy and moist. You can also add in materials like pine bark, vermiculite, or perlite, which will all help ensure healthy air flow throughout the potted soil.
Air flow is important for the soil, because the seeds won’t germinate if the soil is packed in too tightly. You want the soil to be compact, so the seeds are snug, but don’t suffocate them. Also, proper drainage is super important and if the soil is too tight this will impede drainage.
Potting the Soil
Once you have the soil ready to use, the best pot for growing cilantro is a clay pot. Clay pots hold moisture well and will help ensure that the soil stays damp enough. But, a clay pot isn’t necessary and cilantro will happily grow in any type of pot. Use whatever you have on hand!
The most important thing with choosing a pot is that there’s at least 8 inches of depth for soil. Less space than this will really cramp the roots and you won’t have as healthy of a plant.
Fill the container up about 75% with soil, then place the seeds in. It’s recommended to put in about five seeds per 2 square inches, although, of course, you don’t have to be exact with this. Just get an idea of how many seeds to add in and sprinkle them over the soil.
Cover the seeds with about half an inch of soil. With the seeds in and soil topped off, water thoroughly until water starts to drain out of the pot. Cover the pot with a lid, nothing super heavy but something to keep out the light.
Also, note that cilantro doesn’t like to be transported, so you should pot the seeds in a pot that the whole plant can grow in.
Close up photo of a seed germinating.
Making sure you have good, healthy soil is definitely a good starting point and the next step is to make sure all the conditions are right for the seeds to germinate and take off growing.
Cilantro is a very resilient plant, so once the leaves start to form you’re in good shape. The main obstacle is just getting the seeds to get started. For many people who have problems growing cilantro, it’s this first step that doesn’t go right for them.
As I said with the soil section, if the soil is too compact the seeds won’t germinate. They need enough wiggle room to sprout roots and, well, wiggle! If the new roots have to fight against soil pressed against them, they likely won’t make it very far.
The most important thing with the germination process is that the seeds prefer warmer conditions for germination. A lot of people don’t realize this because cilantro as a fully grown plant prefers colder climates, so you don’t think to warm up the seeds. But, over years and years of farmers testing this out, it’s become clear that cilantro seeds sprout more often in warmer soil and have a harder time in colder conditions.
Here are some ideas for how you can keep the soil warm to support the germination process.
Pre-heat the soil
I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s true! You can make the soil warm before even putting in the seeds to give them a boost.
You can do this by placing the soil in the sun if you live somewhere warm. If you don’t have the chance to use solar power to warm up the soil, you can place the soil in the oven but only very briefly. We don’t want to cook the soil! This will deplete the moisture.
Just put your oven on the lowest heat setting and place the soil in for 10-15 minutes maximum. This will help add just a bit of warmth to the soil.
Leave in Sun or Greenhouse
If you live somewhere where it’s quite warm and you have a space to put the soil directly in the sun, this will be great. Especially if you have a greenhouse set up, the insulation will really help.
If you don’t have a spot or the weather for using solar heat, that’s fine. You can also use slightly warmed water. You absolutely don’t want to boil water and use that- we’re not trying to disinfect the soil!
But, water just above room temperature will help add some warmth to the soil that can be soaked into the seeds.
I’ll explain more later in this post about the watering needs of cilantro, but for now it’s important to stress that cilantro absolutely requires good drainage. If there’s standing water in the pot, the seeds will float around and move, which disturbs them too much. This will also prevent the germination process from going smoothly.
As for the seeds, they don’t need any treatment prior to going into the soil. The seeds have a hard shell around them and some people recommend breaking this shell to facilitate germination, but in general this isn’t needed. Some report that this trick helps the seeds start growing, whereas others have no problems growing seeds without breaking the husks.
The germination process takes about one week, ranging from 5 to 10 days. In the first few days, the seeds will sprout and start pushing towards the surface. After about 5 days you’ll likely have little green leaves sticking up from the soil.
After one week these leaves will continue growing and will start to reach the lid. Take off the lid just as the leaves get to this point so they aren’t cramped under it.
From this step, the leaves will continue to grow taller and eventually will start producing cilantro leaves. The baby sprout leaves are straight and grow like a line, however the cilantro leaves are round and will have edges.
Once you see the cilantro leaves growing, take the pot out of the heat. From here on, the cilantro plant will prefer colder conditions, so you’ll want to place the pot somewhere cooler. I’ll explain in a later section what kind of sunlight cilantro needs.
Example of the propagation process for a vine.
It’s also possible to propagate cilantro from clippings if you don’t have or want to buy seeds. It’s a super simple process actually and may be easier for you if you’re having trouble getting the seeds to germinate.
All you need is a fresh piece of cilantro, take off any leaves on the bottom two inches, and place in a glass with shallow water. Leaving the herb in water will provoke it to grow roots, which will eventually be ready to be planted.
Keep an eye on the glass, every few days you’ll need to refill with just a little bit of water so the plant can keep drinking and growing roots. Once you have a couple inches of roots, the piece is ready to be planted!
Each piece that you propagate will turn into a whole cilantro plant, but this takes time. So, if you use cilantro a lot and want bundles on hand, you should propagate several pieces. Also, note that you can’t grow microgreens from clippings.
Potting a Full Plant
Another option for getting started, especially if you’re really having a hard time with germination, is just buying a young plant. It’s quite common to see cilantro plants in nurseries or even grocery stores, so maybe that;s what you’re working with.
With this, follow the guidelines I listed earlier about having healthy soil and a spacious pot, and you should be off to a good start!
Take notice of the moisture of the soil when you buy a cilantro plant, as sometimes after sitting around, the soil can dry out a bit. In this case, just know you need to start with an especially moist soil and be careful with watering.
Cilantro, thankfully, isn’t super particular about water. The most important thing with watering cilantro is that the water properly drains. If the soil is too wet and becomes soggy, the plant’s roots will not be so healthy.
The cilantro plant just needs to be watered about once a week, once the soil is dry. If the soil is still a bit wet when you stick your finger in, it’s too early to water.
If you often use the heating or powerful air conditioning in your home or the space where you’re growing cilantro, it’s important to keep an eye on the moisture of the soil. If your space is a bit dry, it helps to spray or mist the cilantro to keep it moisturized.
Lastly, remember that with cilantro it’s more important to do a thorough watering than to water often. If your plant isn’t looking spritely, don’t just water more with hopes that it will bounce back. Overwatering is definitely a risk you run with cilantro.
Sunlight and Temperature
Cilantro grows best in full to partial sunlight. The plant loves getting at least 5 to 6 hours of sun a day. If you have a south facing window, this will be great! If you live somewhere where you receive hardly any light, you’re going to have a hard time getting a really strong cilantro plant.
While cilantro loves full sunlight, it’s pretty sensitive to intense heat. So, depending on where you live and your living situation, placing your plant in a south facing window may actually be too intense if that means a lot of direct heat. A place like that would be great for the germination process, but once the cilantro plant is older, it needs a mild climate.
On that note, you shouldn’t place your cilantro plant next to your heat or radiator, because both of these will give off too much heat for the plant to sustain. If the cilantro plant senses the area is too hot, it will go into the last stage of its life, and start flowering. At this point the leaves turn bitter and aren’t tasty.
In general, cilantro prefers a cool climate and can grow happily throughout the winter, especially indoors. Cilantro can’t withstand extreme cold, like snowstorms, but as long as that isn’t happening inside your home, you likely won’t have any problems growing cilantro all through the winter.
The little green bugs are aphids, next to ants to show the scale of how small they are.
One of the big benefits of growing plants indoors is that you have a much smaller chance of ever having to deal with insects harming or eating up your plant. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean there’s zero chance.
The two problem insects you need to look out for are spider mites and aphids. Both are very tiny insects that somehow always find their way into homes with indoor plants. Because they’re so tiny, often we don’t notice them until there’s ton of them and at that point, they can be really hard to get rid of.
The issue with these two insects is that they’re both tiny and numerous, so they can be a real hassle to get rid of. Because of this, a lot of people usually toss their plants that have been infected by either and will just sow more seeds and try again.
If, however, you want to fight them and keep caring for your cilantro plant, there is something you can do. The DIY way is to get isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle, and spray your plant.
This will kill off the insects without severely hurting your plant, although you should be cautious because too much of this strong alcohol could damage the plant and may even kill it. There are also store bought options you can try that are made specifically for aphids.
One more thing to be cautious of: damping off. This is a kind of fungus that grows in soil if it’s too wet. This is one of the major risks of overwatering. This comes as a white mold on the top of the soil that chokes out the stems and shrivels them up. You can avoid this by making sure the pots have proper drainage.
You can also grow microgreens from cilantro seeds! In fact, you can grow microgreens from any seed and it’s pretty easy. Microgreens are the little sprouts that come out of the seeds. They’re completely edible and very nutritious, great for adding to sandwiches, salads, or any dish.
For growing microgreens, you can only grow them indoors, because the greens are so weak and very sensitive. You can use a shallower pot or pan for this, since the seeds will be right at the top and don’t need to root down.
As with the full cilantro plant, use a rich and nutritious soil that has a lot of moisture. Place the seeds just on top and for this you don’t need to cover them with more soil.
This needs to be watered everyday, just to moisten the top. You can also spray or mist the soil. Because the seeds are on top, it’s important that the soil doesn’t dry out.
After around 20 days you’ll have little green sprouts coming up from the soil! These are ready to eat and you can snip them with scissors and start adding to your meals. The microgreens will grow back several times before the seeds are done.
Growth and Bolting
Lastly, let’s talk about bolting, the end of the plant’s life cycle. When a plant bolts, it sends up a strong and stiff stem that holds seeds, because it’s preparing for its season to be over and to drop seeds.
For cilantro, when it bolts it grows a strong stem that carries a white flower and all the seeds that are used as coriander. When this happens, the leaves turn bitter and they lose their beloved flavor. Once the plant decides to bolt, there isn’t much you can do to stop it, but there are some things you can do to prevent it.
Firstly, as I said earlier in this post, placing the plant in a very warm location will cause it to bolt early. Cilantro can’t withstand lots of heat so if its spot is very warm it will prepare to wilt by bolting.
Field of bolted cilantro, now as coriander flowers.
Another way to prevent bolting is by harvesting often. If you don’t harvest the cilantro leaves, they will become old and wilter and this will also trigger bolting. On the other hand, if you harvest frequently the plant will generate fresh leaves to replace the old ones and this keeps it lively. Most cilantro plants have several harvests in them.
Also, there are a few varieties of cilantro that have been specifically bred to bolt less easily. You can search for these specific varieties if you live somewhere warm or if you really love the fresh leaves and want them to last as much as possible.
There is one thing you can do once the plant bolts. Go to the base of the stem of the flower and snip it, to prevent it from growing any more. This also allows the plant to use more energy for the leaves rather than this big flower.
Remember, when it bolts, this means no more fresh leaves, but you can still use the seeds for fresh flavor! The seeds can be eaten fresh or dried, either way they have an amazing flavor that should make up for the loss in fresh leaves.
Cilantro is an amazingly flavorful herb that can be used in so many recipes and for that alone deserves a spot in your herb garden. In addition, it’s fairly easy to grow and can be grown outdoors or indoors easily.
If you don’t have much space to work with or you’re just starting a garden, growing cilantro indoors is a great place to start. It may even be easier to grow cilantro indoors since it’s easier to control the weather conditions indoors.
In this guide you have all the information you need to start growing cilantro indoors and I hope you’re feeling ready!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.