Watering Cilantro the Right Way: Expert Tips

growing cilantro

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you’re not in the “cilantro tastes like dirty socks” category of people. Whew! Me neither.

In fact, I love eating and growing cilantro, probably because tacos are one of my favorite quick weeknight dinners.  And IMHO, no one should eat a taco without sprinkling some chopped cilantro on top as the finisher.

Unfortunately, I hear from lots of gardeners who tell me that cilantro is a tricky plant to grow.

And I agree.

There are lots of reasons for that, mostly tied to the fact that cilantro is picky about the conditions in which it grows. Cilantro bolting is a very common occurrence in vegetable gardens everywhere during late spring and early summer.

And while you can’t keep you cilantro alive forever, knowing the best tips for watering cilantro will go a long way towards helping it live as long as possible, i.e. for many weeks of Taco Tuesdays!

How do you grow cilantro from seed?

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How to Keep Your Cilantro Plants Happy

I cover the topics in this section more in depth in my article on cilantro bolting, so head over there if you love all the details.

Here’s the quick version.

Your cilantro plants love the following things:

Cool Weather
Some vegetables grow best in the mild temperatures of the early spring and fall seasons – these are known as cool weather crops. And cilantro is one of them! It grows best in temperatures between 60-75 F and is very cold hardy. You don’t have to worry about your cilantro dying in your last frosts of spring or first frosts of fall.

Moisture
Cilantro doesn’t like dry soil. Especially when it’s hot outside. If the temperatures soar and you forget to water for awhile, the hot and dry conditions are going to really stress out the plants. Which likely means they’re going to start bolting.

Shorter Days
Many plants are day length sensitive, which means they are affected by the hours of light in a day. Cilantro is one of these plants and the lengthening days as we travel towards the summer solstice causes it to bolt.

In my article about cilantro bolting, I share techniques you can use to address these particular preferences of cilantro. In this article we’re going to focus specifically on watering cilantro.

cilantro water requirements

 

Tips for Watering Cilantro

Watering cilantro is one of the best ways to keep it growing and thriving in your garden. Here are some things to consider:

#1: Are you watering cilantro seeds or plants?

If you’ve just planted cilantro seeds (and this is how I recommend growing cilantro – from seed, not from plants you bought) then they need to remain consistently moist until they germinate in 7-10 days. Do not let the soil dry out for long periods of time while waiting for germination or it will take forever. 

In my garden, I water all of my newly planted seeds in the mornings and evenings. I walk around the garden checking on them every day and once a row of seeds has germinated I know I can dial back the watering a bit.

If your cilantro seeds have germinated and the plants are growing, continue reading to find out how to keep those plants well-hydrated.

#2: Know how much water cilantro needs.

In general, vegetable plants need about one inch of water per week. One inch should be the total amount of water the garden receives – both from rain and your watering.

But, how much water your cilantro actually needs is influenced by your soil type, the time of year, and your climate.

I live in zone 5 Wisconsin, which in a normal year has plentiful rain. In 20 years of gardening I’ve never felt the need to set up an irrigation system.

My garden also has clay soil, which is on the heavier side and is great at retaining water.

During spring through fall, unless we’re in a drought or a very hot period with temperatures in the upper 80’s and 90’s F, I generally water my garden about once a week. And if it rains one inch during that particular week I usually don’t need to give the garden any extra water.

Let’s talk about another scenario different from mine.

If you live in a dry desert climate like CO, AZ or CA, you may have sandy soil that doesn’t hold moisture as well. This means you’ll likely need to water a bit more. If your desert climate is hot, you may water every day, or even twice a day. If you live in a cooler desert climate, you may water every few days.

You’ll need to experiment and monitor your plants’ health and the soil moisture to decide if the amount of watering you’re delivering is enough.

If you have a good idea of how much water your vegetable garden needs, the best thing to keep in mind is that cilantro is one of vegetables that likes more water, not less, and water accordingly.

rain gauge for cilantro

#3: Keep track of rainfall.

I suggest keeping track of how much rain your garden has received each week by installing a simple rain gauge in one of your beds. (I have this one.)

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that I have no concept of how much water a rain event brings.

There have been times when I could hear the rain pattering on my roof all night long and I felt sure we received several inches of rain.

But, in the morning when I walked out and checked my rain gauge it said 1/10 of an inch. What?!

That’s why a rain gauge is a more reliable measure of how much rain your garden actually received. Don’t rely on your “sense” of how much it rained.

Here are some options for simple rain gauges. I like plastic over glass because the glass ones break very easily, and prefer taller gauges that won’t get covered up by the plants around them.

World’s Coolest Rain Gauge

Jumbo Rain Gauge

Large Easy to Read Acrylic Rain Gauge

harvesting cilantro

How to Harvest Cilantro Without Killing the Plant

Now that you’re a pro at watering cilantro, you can rest assured that it will grow vigorously to produce lots of leaves for you to harvest.

But, what’s the best way to harvest cilantro without killing the plant?

Do not, I repeat DO NOT, go out and cut the entire plant down to a nub when you’re ready to harvest. If you completely remove every leaf and stalk from the plant, there will be nothing left to absorb the sun’s rays (photosynthesis!) and power the plant to regrow more leaves for you to harvest.

Instead, when your cilantro plants are still small you can start harvesting by clipping off the outer, biggest leaves with a pair of garden shears or harvest scissors. (I like these and these best for harvesting.)

As the plants get bigger and fuller, you can treat them more like a cut and come again crop like salad mix. Take your scissors and cut down a section of the row, however much you need for whatever you’re making that day.

Make sure to leave about an inch of growth so the plant can push out more leaves for you to come back and harvest in a few weeks. (This video shows me harvesting cilantro in this way in my garden.)

growing cilantro

Cilantro Companion Plants

To be completely honest with you, there is not a lot of scientific evidence around companion planting. Much of the information out there relies on old anecdotes like “planting marigolds around your garden will keep the rabbits away”.

Ever tried that? 

I don’t recommend it. The best way to keep rabbits out is a fence. Full stop.

Frankly, in my garden, I plant whatever I want near cilantro. But, an important thing to keep in mind is that cilantro is a low growing plant, so you don’t want to place a tall vegetable plant, like tomatoes, in front of it (on the south side in the northern hemisphere) because it will block the sun.

Cilantro is also a compact grower, so I like to keep it away from sprawling plants like winter and summer squash. 

It most often ends up getting planted in garden beds growing beets, carrots, greens, onions or other veggies that keep to themselves.

And because I keep track of everything I plant each year on a garden map, I try my darndest to rotate all of the vegetables each season.

cilantro harvest

Dried Cilantro vs Fresh

In my garden, I try to use as much of my cilantro fresh as possible. But, it is true that sometimes I grow more than I can eat, so I turn to preserving it.

While I do recommend drying some herbs like thyme, mint and sage, I never dry cilantro for my kitchen spice cabinet. Why, you ask?

Because dried cilantro doesn’t taste like anything.

There are much tastier ways to preserve some of your bounty of cilantro for later use. Learn my favorite recipes and best tips for how to preserve cilantro. Hint: lots of yummy herb sauces you can freeze!

You’ve made it to the end of this article! Good job, cilantro-lover. I hope you’ve learned that while watering cilantro the right way is one factor in growing it successfully, there are a lot of other factors to consider as well.

If your goal is to become a cilantro growing champion, I highly recommend reading my article about cilantro bolting, which is one of the most common frustrations I hear from other gardeners around growing cilantro.

Go forth and grow!

Additional Resources for Growing Herbs in Your Garden

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