Question from Christina:
I have cilantro in a container outside…the problem is, it’s leaves have turned purple. I don’t know what I am doing wrong and can’t find my answer anywhere online. I would appreciate any tips you might have! I am in san diego, so it gets tons of sun, a bit too much so I keep it in partial shade part of the day. I also use a moisture meter so I won’t overwater it.
Answer from Pat:
Cilantro is an annual plant. It is not a perennial. An annual grows only for one season and then sets seeds and dies. Cilantro often goes purple when it is ready to set seed and die. If it is being grown in a small container with crowded roots, the plant will be stressed, it will think it’s going to die, so it will go purple and bolt (that is go to seed) prematurely in order to leave some progeny and continue its race.
Cilantro grows best in the ground or in a raised bed, not in a small container. When growing cilantro in a container make sure it is a large one, such as an 18-inch tub. Place the tub in full sun and water it regularly and enough to keep the ground evenly moist. (Whenever you water a plant in a container, you should water enough so that water pours out the bottom of the pot. This keeps the salts washed out. Salts also would ruin your crop.) Additionally when growing in a container, be sure to fertilize cilantro regularly. Potting mix contains no fertilizer. You must provide food for the plant so it will grow rapidly.
Since cilantro is an annual it won’t live forever. As soon as it is about 5 inches tall, begin harvesting with scissors and leave some growing so you can harvest more. Every time you harvest fertilize the plant to keep it growing. For example you could use fish emulsion mixed according to package directions.
In my Southern California garden I have only grown cilantro as a cool-season crop, planting it in fall or simply waiting until it volunteers and then allowing it to grow, and harvesting often. When it gets old and ready to bolt it often goes a bit purple. The purple leaves are not poisonous but they are strong tasting. The young leaves are the best part to eat. The older leaves are a different shape and generally too strong in flavor to eat unless cooked in soup.
In home gardens cilantro germinates easily in fall, grows well in cool temperatures and flourishes when grown throughout cool weather. When subjected to temperature swings such as hot days or dry soil, this can turn leaves purple also. Purple leaves often occur before the plants bolt or go to seed.
Grow cilantro in moist, fertile, well-drained soil and harvest it when young. If you cut off the top foliage often, the plants will continue to send up more growth, but eventually the plants, being annuals, will be worn out and will either die or bolt. Keep cilantro growing rapidly with regular applications of balanced organic fertilizer and adequate water and it should not have purple leaves.
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