An essential ingredient in cuisines ranging from Mexican to Chinese and Indian, you can buy cilantro by the bunch in the produce section of the market. But with almost no work at all, you can enjoy several months of non-stop picking from your own garden.

Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, prefers full sun, although it will tolerate light shade. The seed will germinate in very cold soil, shrugging off spring frost and snow. Now is a good time to plant.

If you like cilantro very much, you’ll want to start from seed. It takes too many seedlings to make buying transplants practical, and they don’t transplant well. As each individual plant is rather small, space the seeds an inch or two apart. Later you can thin them to a spacing of about four inches, eating the ones you remove. The small round seeds need darkness to germinate. Bury them about half an inch deep, directly outside where you want them to grow. Tap roots offer some drought tolerance, but don’t let the plants dry out completely.

You can harvest the leaves at any time, picking them as needed in the kitchen. If left unmolested, cilantro will quickly grow to about two feet in height, with delicate, airy leaves. (At this point, the leaves may be a tad bitter.) The flat clusters of white flowers (similar to carrots and parsley) attract lacewings and other beneficial insects. Be sure to leave some plants to produce seed for use as coriander, and to sow for next year’s leaf crop. Try just breaking off the stems and stripping off the seedheads where you want them to grow the following spring. Nature does the rest.

With the rising popularity of cilantro as a seasoning, several cultivars are now available that are a bit slower to bloom, allowing for an extended leaf harvest. If leaves are your goal, look for packets of Santo, Slo-bolt, or Jantar.

Article and photos by Leslie Holzmann, Certified Colorado Gardener.