Your Guide to Growing Cilantro Indoors

Updated: Aug. 17, 2023

Cilantro is the perfect herb for growing indoors in pots!

For fresh herbs, proximity is everything. If you have easy access to cilantro by growing it indoors in pots, you will suddenly find yourself garnishing everything with this leafy alternative to the more pedestrian parsley.

Most of us only buy fresh cilantro when we need a bunch of it for salsa, and then the leftover cilantro wastes away in our fridge. The magic of cilantro is that every single part—leaves, flowers, seeds and stems—is not just edible, but legitimately delicious. Growing it at home means constant access, and growing it inside is much easier than outdoors.

Guide to Growing Cilantro Indoors

Pot of cilantrogollykim/Getty Images

Cilantro Seeds vs. Starts

Cilantro is a finicky seed to start, but with the right tools, you’ll find yourself on the path to your own plants, year round. While you can buy young plants, usually called “starts”, cilantro starts are only available for purchase from spring through summer. If you want to grow outside of that time, you’re on your own.

Since cilantro also tends to bolt easily (go to seed), you’ll want to succession plant, meaning that you’ll start new cilantro every month or so. For this reason, it’s wise to learn how to successfully and confidently seed your own cilantro plants.

How to Pot Your Cilantro Seeds

To start cilantro seeds, you’ll want a seed tray, seed starting mix, a heat mat and a grow light. During the fall, winter and spring, you just don’t get enough light and heat through the windows to start seeds any other way.

Fill your seed tray with damp seed starting mix. In each cell of your seed tray, place 2-4 cilantro seeds under 1/2 inch of soil. You can use a pencil to make a divot 1/2 inch deep. Cover the seeds with the soil, and then water the tray so that water comes out the bottom.

If your tray did not come with a plastic dome, use plastic wrap to cover the top. Now set the seed tray onto the heat mat, under the grow light.

How Much Sunlight Does a Cilantro Plant Need?

You can either leave the grow light and the heat mat on twenty four hours a day, or 16 hours a day and turn them off at night. Within two weeks, you should see sprouts that will grow into your own cilantro starts. A grown cilantro plant needs some sunlight, at least eight hours a day. A window with direct sun is ideal.

How Much Water Does a Cilantro Plant Need?

Until you have germination, you should be watering enough to ensure that the seed starting mix is always damp. You’ll be able to tell you’re doing it correctly if you see condensation on the interior of the plastic dome or plastic wrap.

Once the cilantro seeds have sprouted, you can remove the plastic dome or wrap, and continue watering it as often as needed for the seedling to remain damp.

When to Transplant Your Cilantro Seedling

When your seedling is 1-2 inches tall, you can transplant it into a larger pot. It’s best to transplant each cell into a larger pot, 6-8 inches wide, as soon as the cilantro is ready.

Editor’s Note: You don’t have to transplant your cilantro; it would be fine in the seedling tray, under the light—but it would never get tall or bushy, as the roots don’t have enough room.

When transplanting the cilantro, add some potting soil to the bottom inch or two of the pot, and then carefully place the seedling in the middle of the pot, taking care to not disturb the roots. Gently pack soil in around the seedling, and then make sure to water it enough that water comes out the bottom of the pot. Leave the pot with your new transplant away from direct sunlight for twenty four hours so it may recover.

How Often to Prune Cilantro Leaves

With your new plants on their way to being fully grown, you should take care to prune the entire herb plant back to 2-3 inches tall once a week. This encourages it to grow bushier and more robust, and discourages the cilantro from bolting.

When you do harvest your cilantro, use the leaves and the stems together in recipes. The stems provide an amazing crunch.

When to Harvest Cilantro

Fresh green Cilantro by the window in bright lightRike_/Getty Images

If you continue chopping your cilantro plant once a week, you should be able to continue to harvest it for months. Cilantro will continue to grow leaves and stems, with the stems getting woodier over time, which is less enticing to eat.

At some point, you’ll notice the stems shooting up, and beginning to grow many fine wispy leaves and flowers. This is the cilantro bolting. Don’t despair, though, because this means it is going to seed. If you allow it to continue growing, within a week or two you’ll have a bevy of tiny green seeds at the ends of the stems. This is cilantro seed, and it is soft enough while fresh to eat all by itself, use as a garnish, or pickle. You can also allow them to dry, and you’ll have seeds to start another round of cilantro.

Once the cilantro has gone to seed, it’s time to compost the plant and start with a fresh one. By starting new cilantro each month, you’ll always have a seedling waiting to be transplanted when you need one. Looking for more plants? Here are a few tips for growing mint indoors.

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