‘Love Lies Bleeding’, the name most commonly used for Amaranthus caudatus, is a bushy, 5ft tall, half-hardy annual with distinctive flowers that cascade to the ground in dramatic, crimson tassels. In each of these fascinating tassels is a colony of tiny, tightly packed flowers that last for many weeks.
From the Greek word ‘Amaranth’ meaning ‘the unfading flower’, the bright red blooms of Amaranthus generally retain their colour even after the flower has died. No surprise that they’re loved by gardeners and flower arrangers alike. Here’s how to grow Amaranthus in your garden.
In addition to the popular weeping panicles of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’, there are many other different types of amaranth to bring interest to your borders. Amaranthus tricolor ‘Joseph’s Coat’ is coveted for its stunning variegated leaves, while Amaranthus paniculatus is loved for its tall, feathery spikes.
Amaranthus is a warm weather annual that prefers a sunny position and slightly acidic soil. It belongs to a genus of over 60 amaranth species that have an established presence in nearly every continent. They’re easy to cultivate, able to tolerate poor soil and don’t require a lot of watering. Amaranth will also self-sow, bringing more flowers every year.
How to grow amaranthus
Sow amaranthus seeds outside in late spring or early summer after the last frosts. The minimum germination temperature is around 13°C, but best results are seen at 15-18 degrees.
You can direct sow seeds every 15cm (6 inches), thinning to 45 cm (18 inches) as the plants become established. Amaranth can grow to 1.8m (6 feet), so tall varieties like Amaranthus caudatus ‘Fat Spike’ will need approximately 60cm (24 inches) between plants. Don’t worry that the extra seedlings will be wasted. Rather than throwing away these tender shoots, add them to salads or stir-fries instead.
Many people prefer to start their amaranthus seeds off indoors, to give them an early start. If you want to get them going a little sooner, sow your seeds in pots or trays of moist seed compost in February to March, and cover with a very fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Keep them at a constant temperature of between 20-25C but allow the temperature to reduce at night. Keep the seeds somewhere bright, as light helps them to germinate. Germination usually takes 3-15 days. Transplant your seedlings into larger pots and harden them off for 10-15 days before planting out.
As amaranthus are generally large plants, they’re best grown at the back of a flower border where they make dramatic companion plants to other tall summer favourites such as sunflowers, Cleomes, Zinnias and Nicotiana. Smaller varieties, such as Amaranthus paniculatus ‘Marvel Bronze’, look fantastic grown en masse, providing a spectacular display!
Is amaranthus safe to eat?
Historically, amaranthus was revered by the Aztecs and Incas, who believed that it had supernatural powers as food and medicine, making it one of the world’s oldest crops. It’s also sometimes known as ‘Chinese spinach’ or ‘callaloo’ in Caribbean cooking.
Today Amarathus is gaining popularity as a superfood, and more and more people are choosing to grow it in the vegetable garden. The plant’s green leaves can be eaten raw in salads, added to soups and stir fries, or simmered in curries. Similar in taste to spinach, Amaranthus leaves contain almost twice the vitamin C and the same amount of iron, but unlike spinach, the plant doesn’t bolt.
Each Amaranthus plant also produces multiple seed heads, yielding up to 5,000 seeds that are a bit like quinoa. Mild and nutty, gluten-free and packed with protein and calcium, the mild peppery flavour is a great addition to breads and cereals.
How to harvest amaranthus seeds
While most people want to grow Amaranthus for its ornamental value, it’s worth knowing a little bit about harvesting the seeds. Perhaps also having some recipe ideas if you fancy growing amaranthus to add variety to your diet.
The seed heads mature from the bottom of the tassel and move upwards, so the simplest way to test if they’re ripe is to shake out the ripe seeds into a clean bucket. Alternatively cut the seed heads, cover them with a paper bag and hang them upside down in a well ventilated place to allow them to dry for a week or two.
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