Amaranthus is a short-lived frost-tender plant that’s both ornamental and edible. Popular for summer bedding and easy to grow, amaranthus looks dramatic and immensely showy with enormous tassel-like crimson, purple or green flowers, or brilliantly coloured foliage.
Amaranthus is known by many names: one of the most popular flowering varieties is ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (tassel flower) and for edible use its names include amaranth, Caribbean spinach, Inca wheat, Chinese amaranth, callaloo, tampala and Chinese spinach. Both the leaves and seeds are edible, and this plant is highly nutritious. The leaves are rich in Vitamin C and iron with a taste rather like spinach, and the gluten-free seeds have a nutty flavour are high in protein and calcium.
In frost-free countries amaranthus can be an invasive plant, but this is not an issue in the UK. Amaranthus makes a good cut flower and can also be dried for arrangements.
Growing amaranthus is also a great way of growing your own wild bird food – birds love to eat the seeds.
How to grow amaranthus
Despite its exotic looks, this sun-loving half-hardy annual is easy to grow from seed. Either sow under cover in early spring for early summer colour, or direct in the soil outdoors. Grow amaranthus for flower and foliage interest as part of a bedding scheme in borders with similarly exotic-looking flowers like dahlias, zinnias and sunflowers or grow in an edible garden for harvesting. Smaller varieties of amaranthus can be grown in pots.
Amaranthus: jump links
- Sowing amaranthus
- Caring for amaranthus
- Harvesting amaranthus
- Growing amaranthus: problem-solving
- Buying amaranthus
- Best amaranthus to grow
Where to grow amaranthus
Grow amaranthus in full sun and in any reasonable soil that doesn’t get too dry, with the exception of Amaranthus caudatus (love-lies-bleeding) which tolerates poor soil. Site tall-growing varieties at the back of a border, grow shorter ones in the middle of a border, either in groups; mixed with other colourful annuals to create a summer bedding display; or in gaps in borders between long-lived hardy plants. For harvesting, either grow among ornamental plants, in an edible garden or raised beds.
How to sow amaranthus
Start seeds under cover around March, sowing onto moist seed compost. Avoid covering compost as seed needs light to germinate: instead, cover with a thin layer of perlite or use polythene or a propagator to ensure seed doesn’t dry out Keep at a temperature of 20°C for seed to germinate reliably. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant into individual small pots or modular trays and grow on until sufficiently large to plant out.
Alternatively direct sow outside into moist soil in mid to late spring. Thin seedlings to between 30-60 cm apart, depending on ultimate size of the variety.
How to plant amaranthus
Harden off plants growing under cover to acclimatise them to the outside before planting out in late spring or early summer once the frosts are past. Plant into soil that is not too rich, spacing plants 30-60cm apart depending on size. Water in immediately after planting.
Caring for amaranthus
After planting out, keep watered during dry spells for the first few weeks until established and then water only during dry weather. Direct-sown plants need only an occasional thorough watering if the weather is dry. Tall-growing varieties may need staking or supporting.
How to harvest and use amaranthus
Both the leaves and seeds are edible. Pick leaves whilst small and tender to use in salads; use young or older leaves in stir-fries, curries and many other dishes. The seeds are similar to quinoa with a mild nutty flavour and again can be added to a range of dishes.
Harvest the ripe seeds in late summer or autumn by either shaking the seed heads over a container or into a bag whilst still on the plant. Alternatively, cut off the seed head and hang upside down enclosed by a bag for a few days until the seeds fall.
Growing amaranthus: problem solving
Amaranthus is mostly trouble-free to grow. Virus diseases can occur when plants develop pale, unhealthy or mottled leaves: there is no cure and affected plants should be destroyed. Because aphids transmit viruses, inspect plants regularly – small infestations can be controlled by hand-squashing or by simple chemical-free methods.
Advice on buying amaranthus
- Amaranthus is usually grown from seed, but you may find young plug plants available online in spring
- Nearly all amaranthus are edible but varieties sold for eating have been selected for their good seed production and tasty leaves
- Check that you have the right spot to grow amaranthus – they need a sunny spot
Where to buy amaranthus online
Best varieties of amaranthus to grow
Amaranthus caudatus ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ – usually grown as an ornamental. Small, deep red flowers form eye-catching hanging tassels. The flowers can be cut and used fresh or dried.
Height x Spread: 1m x 50cm
Amaranthus caudatus ‘Fat Spike’ – as its name suggests, this variety produces large, upright spikes of crimson flowers. Can be grown as an ornamental or for eating.
H x S: 1.2m x 60cm
Amaranthus caudatas ‘Crimson Fountains Mixed’ – an edible/ornamental variety. The beautiful crimson, pompon tassels look especially beautiful as a cut flower.
H x S: 75cm x 40cm
Amaranthus hypochondriacus ‘Green Thumb’ – an unusual compact and ornamental variety that has bronze-green foliage and unusual green flower spikes. It makes a good bedding plant and is suitable for growing in borders or containers. It makes an excellent cut flower in both fresh and dried arrangements.
H x S: 60cm x 30cm