PREFERRED SOIL pH: Slightly acidic
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun to partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Red, garnet, or green flower tassels; tolerates heat; for beds or pots
SEASON OF INTEREST: Early summer to fall
FAVORITES: Red-flowered A. caudatus; dwarf green 'Green Thumb'; dwarf red 'Pygmy Torch'; A. cruentus 'Hot Biscuits' for buff brown flowers; A. tricolor for yellow or red leaves
QUIRKS: Plants need warm soil
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Celosia, gomphrena, lavatera, marigolds, flowering tobacco
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Well-drained soil in warm summer climates
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Aphids, deer
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good except for deer
DIMENSIONS: 2-6 ft (0.6-1.8 m) tall, 2-3 ft (0.6-1 m) wide
Love-Lies-Bleeding in the Landscape
With one of the most vivid names in the plant world, love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) boasts tiny blood red flowers that dangle from arching, 2 ft (0.6 m) long ropelike stems that droop from plants that are 4 ft (1.2 m) tall or taller. No doubt about it, this plant is no shrinking violet. The flower color is astonishing, the cascading tassels of flowers are difficult to ignore, and the plant's dimensions are practically larger than life.
If you want to downplay the drama, tuck the plant into the back of the border behind shorter summer flowering plants, such as lavatera, gomphrena, marigolds, or celosia. For a braver approach, plant it beside a gate, porch, or front door. Love-hes-bleeding is equally striking in a container, as long as the scale is large.
Although love-hes-bleeding is a giant among annuals, its needs are few. It thrives on summer heat and asks little of your time. Once planted, it takes poor soil and dry conditions in stride. The blossoms make wonderful cut flowers, or you can dry them for use in winter arrangements.
The Many Shades of Drama
If the typical red flowers and towering stature of love-hes-bleeding aren't your heart's desire, try a different amaranth. The variety known as 'Green Thumb' bears vivid green upright flower spikes on a demure plant that stands 12-24 in (30.5-61 m) tall. 'PygmyTorch' is its garnet-flowered dwarf counterpart.
If you feel that big is beautiful but want toned-down flowers, try the 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) tall A. cruentus 'Hot Biscuits', which is topped by huge, buff brown, upright plumes. A midsized compromise is A. giganticus, called the elephant head amaranth because of its immense, upright, blood red plumes.
Flowers aren't amaranthus' only assets. The closely related plant called summer poinsettia (A. tricolor) stands 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m) tall and features a flowing crown of brilliantly colored foliage. The uppermost leaves of 'Aurora' are sunshine yellow, while those of 'Illumination' are crimson.
Love-hes-bleeding and the other amaranths will grow in any soil, including heavy clay. Plants grown in full sun are stiffly upright, but you may need to stake those in partial shade. Love-hes-bleeding prefers warm temperatures, so there's nothing to be gained from sowing seeds early. Sow seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last frost date.
Barely cover the seeds with soil and keep the soil barely moist and at room temperature till seedlings have several sets of leaves. Transplant them into the garden when the weather is warm and settled.You may also seed directly into the garden in well-drained soil and full sun. Space plants 18 in (45.7 cm) apart, and mulch between them to discourage weeds. There is no need to fertilize, and these drought-tolerant plants seldom need watering.
The only significant insect foes of amaranths are tiny pear-shaped, sap-sucking aphids, which can be dispatched with a forceful spray of water or insecticidal soap. Deer, however, enjoy eating love-lies-bleeding. Discourage them by tying a bar of deodorant formula bath soap to a stake and tucking it among the plants. The only potential for disease is root rot, but planting in well-drained to dry soil will prevent rot.