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My cilantro (planted outside, full sun from about 11am to 6pm) doesn't have the broad leaves that I see when I buy it in the store. I planted it in May. When should I expect it ready for harvesting?

My parsley (same planting timeframe and location), hasn't grown more than about 1-2 inches. When should I expect it to be ready?

Should I be placing these in the sun? Are they better off in a more shaded location? Are they getting too much sun? Not enough/too much water (I water pretty regularly - like once every 2 days)?

I've added some pictures of each below. The parsley is on the left and the cilantro is on the right (click to enlarge).

Parsley is not very tall Cilantro has very thin leaves. The bottoms have started to turn a brownish color within the last 1 week or so.

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Brian, in future, please ask a separate question for different plants instead of clumping them in one. It makes it easier to catalogue and search in the future. –  Lorem Ipsum Oct 13 '11 at 2:24

3 Answers 3

Your cilantro has definitely bolted. You can now do one of two things. You can either scrap the pot and start with new seeds or wait for the flower to mature and collect the seeds and use them a coriander (a different spice), or to plant more cilantro.

Your parsley looks pretty good except for a little bit of yellowing. I would pull off the yellow leaves and wait for more leaves to appear. Not sure right off hand what is causing the yellowing, it may just be old leaves or it could be one of the reasons mentioned in one of the other answers here.

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As I mention in my answer on a question on easy to grow herbs and spices, you must harvest your herbs regularly. Herbs are not exactly like tomatoes/peppers where you plant it, wait for it to grow, for fruits to be produced, ripen and harvest a big crop all at once. Once you have a bunch of young leaves (or when the plant is 6" high), you can start harvesting it a few stalks at a time. Do not chop off the entire bunch, as the plant needs its leaves to photosynthesize and grow. My rule of thumb is that no more than 1/6th of the plant should be harvested at a time. When newer shoots start forming, harvest the next 1/6th and keep doing this.

If your culinary needs require larger amounts of cilantro, don't chop off a 1/3rd. Instead have two plants and take off a 1/6th from each. You can scale this up as per your needs. If you notice any flowers growing, pinch them off. These steps will keep the plant "young" for longer and you can extend your harvest.

I'll echo bstpierre in saying that cilantro is notorious for bolting. Thinner leaves and stiffer stalks are a clear indication that it's bolting/starting to bolt and there isn't much you can do at this point. One work around is to have several plants at different stages of growth, so that you harvest the younger ones and when the older ones start to bolt, simply pull it out and replace it with a fresh one from the store, as explained in this answer. Repeat cycle.

Note that even if you use a few leaves only when you need it, you must harvest the older leaves. If you're not using it, share it with your friends or store them in the refrigerator. Replace cilantro with parsley in the above, and everything still holds (except that parsley bolts slower than cilantro).

Herbs require at least 8 hours of full sun, so you're not giving them enough (11am-6pm is only 7). We can't predict exactly when you can expect it to grow enough to be able to harvest, without knowing your weather conditions (even then, what you do/don't do the plants matters!) and bstpierre has a good answer covering what you can do/check to improve.

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+1, nice guide to harvesting herbs. I will mention that I've had success in the past with cilantro in only afternoon direct sunlight (west side of the house). –  bstpierre Jul 20 '11 at 19:22

To some extent, days to maturity depends on the variety.

According to a packet of "Slow Bolt" Cilantro I have, days to maturity is 45-70. If you planted May 1, and all went well, you should have something to harvest by now. In fact, I'm surprised yours haven't all bolted by now; Cilantro is infamous for this.

I transplanted "Extra Curly Dwarf" Parsley in mid-May from seeds that were started inside sometime in April. My plants are about 6-8" high. I took the first harvest a few weeks ago, and I need to go out and cut some more now. These are planted in the ground, in direct sun from ~8am-7pm.

Since you've got them in pots, some possibilities:

  • The soil is getting too hot. Try putting the pots where they'll get morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Depending on the potting medium and how "baked" the soil gets, it may not be able to retain enough water. Are the plants wilting? Yellowing? Is the soil pulling back from the edge of the pot?
  • Contrary to the previous point, it's possible that watering every other day is too much. Do the pots have good drainage? Are the stems or roots showing signs of rot? Are the leaves yellowing from the bottom up? Is the soil moldy / green?

Take a look at this list of some signs of over- and under-watering.

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What is "bolting"? –  Brian Jul 20 '11 at 18:45
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@Brian: Bolting is when the plant sends out a long stalk and starts flowering. This is a term used for plants that are normally grown for their leaves, as the production of flowers is accompanied with changes in the taste of the leaves. See the wikipedia article for more details. –  Lorem Ipsum Jul 20 '11 at 19:02
    
Yeah, it's definitely started flowering. It now also has small balls where some of the flowers once were (seeds?). I suspect I'll have to scrap this pot and try again? –  Brian Jul 21 '11 at 12:00
    
It's looked like this for a month or so now though. I usually check my plants each morning, and I cannot recall any day that these looked like the cilantro I buy in the stores. They have looked essentially the same for about 1-2 months now. –  Brian Jul 21 '11 at 12:07
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@Brian: The cilantro has clearly bolted and it will never look like the store bought ones. You'll have to throw this out and plant a new one. BTW, as waxeagle said, the seeds of those fruits are the coriander seeds that you get in stores, which is a nice spice. I don't normally harvest those, because its easier to buy seeds in the store than waiting and drying these. –  Lorem Ipsum Jul 21 '11 at 13:34

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