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Nathan Johanning
Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
University of Illinois Extension
402 Ava Rd.
Murphysboro, IL 62966
Phone: 618-687-1727
FAX: 618-687-1612

Vegetable Production

Vegetable Production


Cilantro Production

     Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is also known as Chinese or Mexican parsley, and coriander. Cilantro is a cool-season biennial vegetable, although it is primarily grown in an annual production system. The fresh leaves have a pungent odor and are widely utilized in many ethnic dishes. The chopped leaves of cilantro are very popular in Mexican dishes and really enhance the flavor of salsa, salads, tacos and burritos. The seeds are called coriander and are an important spice that has been used for centuries as a tasty seasoning. The market potential of many specialty crops such as cilantro is expanding since Asian and Mexican cuisine is becoming increasing popular in the U.S. and consumers are developing a familiarity with its culinary uses. Therefore, since cilantro is an easily grown crop and many consumers are familiar with its preparation, it tends to fit well in many local direct market growers production schemes.
     Cilantro can be grown under a wide range of climatic conditions, although temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees F are optimal for plant growth. However, under the hot conditions of summer, cilantro will bolt easily, and does much better in an early spring or fall planting. The leaves that are produced on plants that have bolted tend to be less desirable as they are more pungent and bitter in flavor. Cilantro plants that are ‘slow-bolting’ are best suited for leaf production in the lower Midwest climate. Cilantro will also survive a few light frosts during the fall.
     This plant is propagated by seed and prefers to be grown under full sun conditions. Seed can be planted in single- or double-rows on raised beds, with plants spaced about 1 to 2 inches apart in-the-row. Constant, high levels of soil moisture is needed to provide ideal conditions for cilantro seed germination; therefore, to obtain adequate seed germination, water must be provided to the soil in some manner such as overhead sprinkler or drip irrigation. Once the seed have germinated, seedlings need about 1 inch of water per week for optimal foliage growth and development. Cilantro will be ready to harvest in about 40 to 50 days after seeding.
     ‘Slo bolt’, ‘Leisure’, ‘Santos’, and ‘Caribe’ are cilantro cultivars that do well in the lower Midwest climate. All have some tolerance to bolting and produce high quality foliage and yields.

     Cilantro plants need about 100 lbs/acre of N, P, and K to obtain the highest possible yields. About 50 lbs/acre should be applied pre-plant with the rest side-dressed to plants after the first harvest. If the cilantro is over-wintered for spring production, about 25 lbs/acre should be saved for the spring application. Although cilantro grown in the lower Midwest has few insect and disease problems, weed control is a major issue; however, there are few registered pesticides available for any type of pest control. Hand weeding, mechanical cultivation and straw mulching are the primary ways that weeds are controlled in cilantro. Straw mulch should be placed around seedlings as soon as possible to prevent weed competition. Cilantro is a great crop for sustainable production or organic systems due to the low inputs required, as adequate crops can be produced with few pesticides.
Cilantro can be harvested in multiple ways. First, the largest and highest quality leaves can be individually cut from plants. Secondly, the foliage can be cut about 1 ½ to 2 inches above the crown. Plants or leaves can be bunched and tied together with a rubber band or twist tie for marketing purposes. For both of these harvest regimes, cilantro plants will produce several crops per season. Thirdly, the entire plant can be cut just below the soil surface with several plants bunched and tied together as previously described.


1) Cilantro can be grown during the spring or fall, but will bolt and produce     excessively pungent foliage under the hot conditions of summer
2) Plant on raised beds in double rows, with 9 to 12 inches between rows; seedlings should be spaced about 1 to 2 inches apart
3) Use slow-bolt cilantro varieties such as ‘Slo bolt’, ‘Leisure’, ‘Santos’, and ‘Caribe’
4) Seed need lots of moisture after planting to germinate sufficiently, so make sure to irrigate in some manner
5) Weed control is essential for a productive planting, with straw mulch being a cheap and effective weed barrier for this cool-season crop
6) To over-winter cilantro for spring harvest in the lower Midwest, seed in mid- to late September and place about 1 inch of straw around plants within the first two weeks after germination

Cilantro leaves can be used in a wide variety of dishes and fresh chopped leaves add a great flavor to salads, soups or stews, as well as to freshly-made or store-bought salsa. A simple and easy recipe to incorporate cilantro into your cooking is provided below.

Potatoes with Cilantro

About 10 small potatoes, unpeeled and quartered
1 tablespoon butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
Add salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Cooking instructions:
Place potatoes in large pot and add enough water to cover the potatoes. Once the water is at a boil, lower the heat and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. Drain water from potatoes and remove potatoes from pot. Reduce to medium heat, add butter and garlic. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes. Add potatoes, chili powder, cilantro, salt and pepper. Toss mixture to coat potatoes.

Support provided by the College of Agricultural Sciences, the Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems, and the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR).
Published June 2007