Grow Culantro Indoors and Outdoors: A Complete Guide

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Culantro is a fascinating herb that often surprises gardeners with its strong, cilantro-like flavor and sturdy growth. Unlike its delicate cousin cilantro, culantro offers a more intense taste and remains productive throughout the summer without needing frequent replanting. This tropical perennial is a staple in Caribbean, Latin American, and Asian cuisines, making it a valuable addition to any herb garden.

My journey with culantro began when I stumbled upon it in a seed catalog and decided to give it a try. Growing culantro has been an exciting adventure, revealing its resilience and robust flavor. This herb, also known as Mexican Coriander, sawtooth coriander, and recao, among other names, quickly became a favorite in my garden.

Used widely in dishes such as Puerto Rican Sofrito (Recaíto), culantro’s distinct flavor can be difficult to find in supermarkets, especially in regions like Southern Ontario. However, with a bit of effort and the right growing conditions, you can cultivate this unique herb at home and enjoy its bold taste in various culinary creations.

This article will guide you through the process of growing culantro from seeds, seedlings, and cuttings, both indoors and outdoors. Additionally, it will cover essential care and maintenance tips, harvesting techniques, and troubleshooting common issues to ensure you have a successful and rewarding experience growing culantro in your garden.

I. Understanding Culantro

1. Botanical Information and Origins

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) is a tropical perennial herb native to Mexico, Central, and South America. It belongs to the Apiaceae family, the same family as cilantro, parsley, and carrots. Despite its similar flavor to cilantro, culantro has a much stronger taste and aroma, making it a distinctive herb in various culinary traditions. Commonly known as Mexican Coriander, Sawtooth Coriander, Recao (Spanish), Ngò Gai (Vietnamese), and Chardon Beni (French), culantro is integral to many cuisines, particularly in Caribbean, Latin American, and Asian dishes.

SpecificationDetails
Plant TypeHerb (Eryngium foetidum)
FamilyApiaceae (Carrot/Parsley family)
Growth HabitPerennial in tropical climates, grown as an annual in temperate regions
Mature Height1-3 feet tall (30-90 cm)
Sunlight RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil RequirementsWell-draining, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0-7.5
Water NeedsConsistent moisture, but avoid waterlogged soil
Temperature RangePrefers warm temperatures between 70°F-90°F (21°C-32°C)
Planting TimeSpring or early summer in temperate climates, year-round in tropical regions
Spacing12-18 inches apart (30-45 cm)
Harvest Time60-90 days after planting, when leaves are fully developed
PropagationSeeds or root divisions

2. Key Characteristics

Culantro is a hardy plant known for its robust growth and strong flavor. Key characteristics include:

  • Leaves: The leaves are long, dark green, and have jagged, spiny edges. They grow in a rosette pattern and can reach up to 18 inches (45 cm) in height.
  • Flavor: The flavor is similar to cilantro but much more potent. It retains its strong taste even after cooking, making it a valuable herb for dishes that require a bold cilantro flavor.
  • Growth Habit: Culantro grows well in warm, humid conditions and prefers partial shade to full sun. It can be grown as an annual in temperate climates or as a perennial in tropical regions.
  • Flowers: Culantro produces small, white flowers that resemble tiny pine cones. Removing the flower stalks can encourage the plant to produce more leaves and extend its productive period.

II. Starting Culantro from Seeds, Seedlings, and Cuttings

1. Seeds

a. Seed Selection and Germination Conditions

  • Seed Selection and Preparation: Choose high-quality seeds from a reputable supplier. Culantro seeds are tiny, so handle them with care to avoid loss. Before planting, soak the seeds in warm water for a few hours to soften the seed coat and improve germination rates.
  • Ideal Conditions for Germination: Culantro seeds require warmth and consistent moisture to germinate. They also need light, so do not cover the seeds with soil. A heated germination mat can provide the warmth needed, maintaining a temperature of 75-85°F (24-29°C).

b. Steps for Planting Seeds Indoors

  1. Fill seed trays or small pots with a sterile seed-starting mix.
  2. Gently press the seeds onto the surface of the soil without covering them, as they need light to germinate.
  3. Moisten the soil by misting it with water, and cover the trays or pots with plastic wrap or a clear plastic dome to retain humidity.
  4. Place the trays or pots in a warm location, preferably on a heated germination mat.
  5. Check daily to ensure the soil remains moist, and mist with water as needed. Remove the plastic covering once the seeds germinate, typically in 2-3 weeks.
Germination Timeline and Tips for Healthy Seedlings

Culantro seeds typically take 2-3 weeks to germinate. Once the seedlings emerge, provide them with 12-16 hours of light per day using fluorescent grow lights or place them in a sunny window. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Thin the seedlings to prevent overcrowding, leaving the strongest plants to grow. When the seedlings have at least two true leaves and are about 2 inches (5 cm) tall, they are ready to be transplanted into larger pots or directly into the garden.

2. Seedlings

a. Benefits of Using Seedlings

  • Seedlings provide a head start on the growing season, allowing you to transplant stronger, more established plants into your garden or containers.
  • Using seedlings can reduce the time and effort needed to germinate seeds, especially in regions with shorter growing seasons.

b. Transplanting Seedlings into Pots or Garden Beds

  1. Select healthy seedlings that are 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) tall with at least two true leaves.
  2. Prepare pots or garden beds by filling them with nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. Incorporate compost or well-rotted manure to improve soil fertility.
  3. Water the seedlings thoroughly before transplanting to reduce transplant shock.
  4. Carefully remove the seedlings from their trays, being gentle with the roots to avoid damage.
  5. Plant the seedlings in the prepared soil, spacing them 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart. Ensure the root ball is covered and the seedlings are planted at the same depth as they were in their trays.
  6. Water the seedlings immediately after transplanting to help settle the soil around the roots.

c. Proper Spacing and Initial Care

  • Spacing: Proper spacing is crucial for healthy growth. Plant seedlings 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart to allow adequate air circulation and prevent overcrowding.
  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water the seedlings regularly, especially during dry spells, to ensure they establish strong roots.
  • Mulching: Apply a thin layer of mulch around the seedlings to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Mulching also helps regulate soil temperature.
  • Protection: Protect young seedlings from pests and harsh weather conditions. Use row covers or cloches to shield them from strong winds, heavy rain, and pests.

3. Cuttings

a. Benefits of Growing from Cuttings

  • Growing culantro from cuttings can be faster and more reliable than starting from seeds.
  • Cuttings ensure the new plants will have the same characteristics as the parent plant, maintaining desired traits such as flavor and growth habit.

b. Selecting Healthy Cuttings

  1. Choose a healthy culantro plant with vigorous growth. Look for stems that are free from disease and pests.
  2. Using clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears, cut a 4-6 inch (10-15 cm) stem from the parent plant. Ensure the cutting has several leaves and at least one node (a small bump where leaves and roots can grow).
  3. Remove the lower leaves from the cutting, leaving the top leaves intact. This reduces water loss and encourages root development.

c. Rooting Cuttings in Water or Soil

Rooting in Water:
  • Place the cutting in a glass or jar filled with clean, room-temperature water. Ensure the node is submerged but the leaves are above water.
  • Place the container in a warm, bright location out of direct sunlight. Change the water every few days to prevent stagnation and bacteria growth.
  • Roots should begin to develop in 1-2 weeks. Once the roots are 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) long, the cutting is ready to be transplanted into soil.
Rooting in Soil:
  • Dip the cut end of the cutting in rooting hormone powder to encourage faster root development (optional but beneficial).
  • Plant the cutting in a small pot filled with a well-draining potting mix. Firm the soil around the base of the cutting to provide support.
  • Water the cutting thoroughly and cover the pot with a clear plastic bag or dome to create a humid environment. Place the pot in a warm, bright location out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Roots should develop in 2-3 weeks. Remove the plastic covering once the cutting has established roots and shows new growth.

d. Transplanting Rooted Cuttings

  • Once the cuttings have developed strong roots, they are ready to be transplanted into larger pots or directly into the garden.
  • Follow the same steps for transplanting seedlings: prepare the soil, space the plants 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart, and water thoroughly after planting.
  • Ensure the newly transplanted cuttings receive adequate light and water as they acclimate to their new environment.

III. Planting Culantro

1. Outdoors

a. Choosing the Right Location

  • Culantro thrives in partial shade to full sun. In hotter climates, it benefits from some afternoon shade to prevent the leaves from becoming too tough and to reduce the risk of bolting.
  • Choose a location with well-draining soil that remains consistently moist. Culantro prefers rich, organic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.

b. Preparing the Soil

  • Before planting, enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. This will improve soil fertility and moisture retention.
  • Ensure the planting bed is free of weeds and debris. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) to encourage healthy root growth.

c. Planting Seedlings and Cuttings

  1. Space the plants 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart in rows that are 18 inches (45 cm) apart. This spacing allows adequate air circulation and reduces the risk of disease.
  2. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball of the seedling or cutting. Place the plant in the hole, ensuring it is planted at the same depth as it was in the pot.
  3. Firm the soil around the base of the plant to eliminate air pockets and provide support.
  4. Water the plants thoroughly after planting to help settle the soil and establish the roots.

d. Adjusting Planting Times Based on Climate

  • Culantro is a tropical plant that prefers warm temperatures. In temperate climates, plant culantro after the last frost when nighttime temperatures remain above 50°F (10°C).
  • In tropical or subtropical regions, culantro can be planted year-round, but it grows best during the cooler months to avoid the extreme heat of summer.

e. Initial Care and Protection

  • Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water regularly, especially during dry periods, to ensure the plants establish strong roots.
  • Mulch around the base of the plants with organic material such as straw or compost. Mulching helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Protect young plants from pests and extreme weather conditions. Use row covers or cloches to shield them from strong winds, heavy rain, and pests.

2. Indoors

a. Selecting Suitable Containers and Soil

  • Choose containers that are at least 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) deep with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.
  • Use a high-quality, well-draining potting mix. Adding compost or well-rotted manure to the mix will improve fertility and moisture retention.

b. Positioning for Optimal Light and Temperature

  • Place the containers in a location that receives bright, indirect light for at least 6-8 hours a day. A south-facing window is ideal.
  • If natural light is insufficient, supplement with fluorescent grow lights or LED grow lights, keeping them on for 12-16 hours a day.
  • Maintain indoor temperatures between 70-85°F (21-29°C) during the day and no lower than 50°F (10°C) at night. Avoid placing the plants near drafts or heating vents.

c. Watering and Maintaining Indoor Plants

  • Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water the plants when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Mist the plants regularly to maintain humidity, especially in dry indoor environments. Using a humidity tray or a room humidifier can also help.
  • Fertilize the plants every 4-6 weeks with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates.

d. Benefits of Growing Culantro Indoors

  • Growing culantro indoors allows for year-round cultivation, regardless of outdoor weather conditions.
  • Indoor growing provides better control over environmental factors such as light, temperature, and humidity, leading to healthier plants.
  • Culantro grown indoors is less susceptible to pests and diseases compared to outdoor plants.

e. Transplanting and Initial Care

  • Once the seedlings or cuttings have established strong roots, they can be transplanted into larger containers or their final indoor location.
  • Ensure proper spacing by planting each culantro plant at least 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart to allow adequate air circulation.
  • Monitor the plants regularly for signs of pests or diseases and take appropriate action if needed. Indoor plants may still be affected by common indoor pests such as aphids or spider mites.

IV. Care and Maintenance

1. Watering Requirements

  • Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Culantro thrives in a moist environment, similar to its natural tropical habitat.
  • Water the plants regularly, especially during dry spells, to ensure they receive enough moisture. Avoid letting the soil dry out completely.
  • For container-grown plants, place a saucer under the pot to catch excess water and maintain humidity around the roots.

2. Fertilization

  • Culantro does not have high nutrient requirements but benefits from regular feeding to support healthy growth.
  • Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates to avoid over-fertilization.
  • Incorporate organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure into the soil at the beginning of the growing season to improve soil fertility.
  • For indoor plants, a liquid fertilizer applied during watering can provide the necessary nutrients without overloading the soil.

3. Mulching

  • Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plants to help retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth.
  • Mulching also helps regulate soil temperature, keeping the roots cooler in hot weather and warmer in cooler weather.
  • Use materials such as straw, shredded leaves, or compost as mulch. Apply a 2-3 inch (5-7.5 cm) layer, keeping it a few inches away from the plant stems to prevent rot.
  • Replenish the mulch layer as needed, especially after heavy rains or as it decomposes over time.

V. Harvesting and Using Culantro

1. Optimal Harvest Times and Methods

  • Harvest culantro leaves when the plants are well-established and have produced enough foliage, typically 8-10 weeks after planting.
  • For the best flavor, harvest leaves in the morning when the essential oils are most concentrated.
  • Use sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut the outer leaves at the base, leaving the central rosette intact to encourage continued growth.
  • Regular harvesting will prevent the plants from bolting (flowering) too quickly and promote bushier growth.

2. Handling and Processing Harvested Leaves

  • Wear gloves when handling culantro leaves, as they can be prickly and may cause skin irritation.
  • Rinse the harvested leaves thoroughly under cool running water to remove any dirt or debris.
  • Pat the leaves dry with a clean kitchen towel or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.

3. Storage

  • Short-term Storage: After drying the leaves, place them in a plastic bag or airtight container. Store in the refrigerator, where they will keep fresh for up to a week.
  • Long-term Storage: For longer preservation, chop the leaves and freeze them in ice cube trays with a little water or oil. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. This method preserves the flavor for several months.
  • Drying: Another method is to air-dry the leaves. Hang the leaves in a cool, dark place until they are completely dry. Store the dried leaves in an airtight container in a dark pantry. They can be used in cooked dishes, though the flavor will be less intense than fresh culantro.

VI. Troubleshooting Common Issues, Tips for Successful Culantro Growth, and FAQ

1. Troubleshooting Common Issues

a. Addressing Slow Growth and Weak Plants

  • Ensure the plants receive adequate light. Culantro needs at least 6-8 hours of light per day, preferably indirect sunlight.
  • Check soil fertility. Add compost or a balanced fertilizer to provide essential nutrients.
  • Maintain consistent moisture levels. Avoid waterlogging the soil, but do not let it dry out completely.
  • Monitor temperature. Culantro thrives in temperatures between 70-85°F (21-29°C). Protect the plants from temperatures below 50°F (10°C) at night.

b. Managing Flowering and Bolting

  • Harvest leaves regularly to prevent the plants from bolting. Once culantro bolts, the leaves become tougher and less palatable.
  • If flowering begins, pinch off the flower stalks to encourage more leaf production.
  • Provide partial shade in hot climates to reduce the stress that causes bolting.

c. Ensuring Softer, More Palatable Leaves

  • Grow culantro in partial shade to produce softer leaves. Full sun can cause the leaves to become tough and spiny.
  • Keep the soil consistently moist to support healthy, tender growth.
  • Harvest leaves when they are young and tender for the best flavor and texture.

2. Tips for Successful Culantro Growth

a. Recommendations for Planting in Warmer Weather

  • Start culantro seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost date to give them a head start.
  • Transplant seedlings outdoors once nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50°F (10°C).
  • In regions with hot summers, plant culantro in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade to protect it from the intense heat.

b. Adjusting Growing Conditions for Different Climates

  • In tropical climates, culantro can be grown year-round. Ensure the plants have partial shade and consistent moisture to thrive.
  • In temperate climates, grow culantro during the warmer months, providing protection from late frosts and extreme summer heat.
  • In cooler climates, consider growing culantro in containers indoors to extend the growing season and protect it from cold temperatures.

c. Experimenting with Different Varieties

  • Try growing different culantro varieties to find the one that best suits your taste and growing conditions. Some varieties may have larger leaves or be more tolerant of certain climates.
  • Purchase seeds from reputable suppliers and look for varieties specifically bred for your region or growing conditions.
  • Share and exchange seeds with other gardeners to discover new and potentially better-performing varieties.

d. General Tips for Healthy Growth

  • Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Culantro thrives in a humid environment, so regular watering and misting can help maintain the right conditions.
  • Provide adequate light. While culantro prefers partial shade, it still needs 6-8 hours of light daily. In indoor settings, use grow lights if natural light is insufficient.
  • Fertilize the plants every 4-6 weeks with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer to ensure they receive essential nutrients for healthy growth.
  • Mulch around the base of the plants to retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Regularly check for pests and diseases, and take appropriate action if needed. Healthy plants are less susceptible to infestations and illnesses.

2. Tips for Successful Culantro Growth

a. Recommendations for Planting in Warmer Weather

  • Start culantro seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost date to give them a head start.
  • Transplant seedlings outdoors once nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50°F (10°C).
  • In regions with hot summers, plant culantro in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade to protect it from the intense heat.

b. Adjusting Growing Conditions for Different Climates

  • In tropical climates, culantro can be grown year-round. Ensure the plants have partial shade and consistent moisture to thrive.
  • In temperate climates, grow culantro during the warmer months, providing protection from late frosts and extreme summer heat.
  • In cooler climates, consider growing culantro in containers indoors to extend the growing season and protect it from cold temperatures.

c. Experimenting with Different Varieties

  • Try growing different culantro varieties to find the one that best suits your taste and growing conditions. Some varieties may have larger leaves or be more tolerant of certain climates.
  • Purchase seeds from reputable suppliers and look for varieties specifically bred for your region or growing conditions.
  • Share and exchange seeds with other gardeners to discover new and potentially better-performing varieties.

d. General Tips for Healthy Growth

  • Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Culantro thrives in a humid environment, so regular watering and misting can help maintain the right conditions.
  • Provide adequate light. While culantro prefers partial shade, it still needs 6-8 hours of light daily. In indoor settings, use grow lights if natural light is insufficient.
  • Fertilize the plants every 4-6 weeks with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer to ensure they receive essential nutrients for healthy growth.
  • Mulch around the base of the plants to retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Regularly check for pests and diseases, and take appropriate action if needed. Healthy plants are less susceptible to infestations and illnesses.

3. Managing Pests and Disease Prevention

a. Common Pests

  • Snails and Slugs: These pests are attracted to the moist environment culantro prefers. Handpick them off the plants or use organic slug and snail bait to control their population.
  • Whiteflies: Small white insects that feed on the underside of leaves, causing yellowing and weakening of the plants. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to manage infestations.
  • Spider Mites: Tiny pests that cause speckled discoloration on leaves. Increase humidity around the plants and use miticides or insecticidal soap if needed.
  • Flea Beetles: Small, jumping beetles that create small holes in leaves. Use row covers to protect young plants and apply diatomaceous earth around the base of plants to deter them.
  • Mustard Bugs: These pests can cause damage to leaves and stems. Control them by removing weeds around the plants and using insecticidal soap if infestations occur.

b. Natural Pest Control Methods

  • Beneficial Insects: Introduce natural predators like ladybugs, lacewings, and predatory mites to control pest populations. These beneficial insects feed on pests like aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites.
  • Companion Planting: Plant culantro alongside herbs and vegetables that repel pests, such as basil, marigold, and garlic. This can help reduce pest infestations naturally.
  • Neem Oil: A natural pesticide that can be used to manage a wide range of pests. Apply neem oil spray to affected plants, ensuring thorough coverage of the leaves and stems.
  • Insecticidal Soap: Use a homemade or commercial insecticidal soap to control soft-bodied pests like aphids and whiteflies. Spray the solution directly on the pests, focusing on the undersides of leaves.

c. Disease Prevention and Treatment

  • Proper Spacing: Ensure adequate spacing between plants to improve air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal diseases. Overcrowded plants are more susceptible to disease outbreaks.
  • Watering Practices: Water the plants at the base rather than overhead to keep the foliage dry. Wet leaves can promote the growth of fungal diseases like powdery mildew and downy mildew.
  • Sanitation: Keep the garden area clean by removing dead leaves, plant debris, and weeds. This helps prevent the buildup of disease-causing organisms and reduces hiding spots for pests.
  • Crop Rotation: Rotate culantro with other crops each year to prevent the buildup of soil-borne diseases. Avoid planting culantro in the same spot for consecutive years.
  • Fungicides: If fungal diseases like powdery mildew or downy mildew appear, use organic fungicides such as sulfur or copper-based sprays to manage the infection. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe application.

4. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How much water does culantro need?

Culantro thrives in consistently moist soil. Water the plants regularly to keep the soil damp but not waterlogged. In dry conditions, mist the plants to maintain humidity, especially if growing indoors.

Can culantro be grown indoors?

Yes, culantro can be grown indoors. Use containers with good drainage and place them in a bright location with indirect light. Maintain consistent moisture and humidity to mimic its natural tropical environment.

What are the ideal soil conditions for culantro?

Culantro prefers rich, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Adding compost or well-rotted manure to the soil improves fertility and moisture retention, creating ideal growing conditions.

How do I prevent pests in my culantro?

Regularly inspect your plants for pests and use natural pest control methods such as introducing beneficial insects, using neem oil, or applying insecticidal soap. Maintain proper spacing and sanitation to reduce the risk of infestations.

When is the best time to harvest culantro?

Harvest culantro leaves when the plants are well-established and have produced enough foliage, typically 8-10 weeks after planting. For the best flavor, harvest leaves in the morning. Regular harvesting encourages bushier growth and prevents bolting.

Can culantro grow in shaded areas?

Yes, culantro can grow in partial shade. In fact, providing some afternoon shade in hot climates can help produce softer, more palatable leaves and reduce the risk of bolting. However, the plants still need 6-8 hours of light daily.

What nutrients does culantro need?

Culantro benefits from regular feeding with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. Incorporating organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure into the soil also provides essential nutrients for healthy growth.

How can I store harvested culantro?

Rinse the harvested leaves thoroughly and pat them dry. Store the leaves in a plastic bag or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. For long-term storage, chop the leaves and freeze them in ice cube trays with a little water or oil. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag.

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