In my southern Connecticut garden, cilantro is an easy to grow “annual” herb. Cilantro is the leafy portion of coriander – making this herb doubly useful if you are also looking to harvest coriander seeds. Generally sowed in early spring, this 18 inch tall – or so – airy plant quickly provides enough greens to add a fresh zip to salsas and Latin dishes but, like dill, it does not take up a lot of space.
Sow seeds directly into the garden in early spring, keeping the soil evenly moist while waiting for the seeds to sprout and the plants get established. Then water regularly and thin out plants (using any tiny thinnings in the kitchen) so they are about 4-5 inches apart. As the plants grow use the leaves as much as possible before the temperatures warm and the plants go to flower. Snipping the tops of the plants slows flowering, but only somewhat. Once the plants decide to set seed, I leave a few in place to allow seed heads to ripen to a light brown and harden. Then I sprinkle them in assorted bare spots in the garden and water/watch until they sprout. These late sown plants provide a late summer harvest, but I always save some to overwinter under a cold frame. As the weather chills in early fall, I transplant small cilantro plants into pots (to keep them from becoming vole food), sink these in the ground, and cover the area with a small cold frame. I water these plants about once a week or as needed until the real cold sets in. Then I forget about the plants, only checking on their need for water during winter thaws. When spring nears I pick up on the watering and vent the cold frame so the plants don’t cook on warm, sunny days. Once nighttime freezing temperatures stop, I remove the cold frame to allow the plants’ rapid growth. The overwintered plants provide an even earlier supply of cilantro than their early spring-sowed cousins.
Even with limited edible gardening space, I have yet to plant too much cilantro. Any freshly harvested stalks not immediately used will store well with stem ends set in a small amount of water in a refrigerated container. Alternately, washed stems and leaves can be loosely rolled in a paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the frig (this method works well for most small leaved herbs). When left to go to seed, dried coriander seeds are also easily stored and supposedly make nice additions to chili and homemade soup, but mine never make it this far as I cannot resist spreading seeds throughout the garden in hopes of a bumper cilantro crop.
Cilantro ‘Delfino’ (Coriandrum sativum), a 2006 All America award winner, grows well in my garden. I cannot attest to whether or not deer forage on cilantro since I have always planted it in a fenced edible garden where I’m sure to closely watch for flowering.