How to Grow and Care for Love-Lies-Bleeding

Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) - Isolated Indian red and green amaranth plant

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The Amaranthus genus has more than 75 annual and perennial species that easily cross-breed and hybridize. Flowering from July to September, the plant is beloved by many gardeners for its bright red, purple or gold drooping flowers and for its iconic red or pale green foliage. This self-fertile species is monoecious, meaning its individual flowers are either male or female while both sexes can be found on a single plant, and it is pollinated by the wind. Seeds ripen from August to September.

Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) usually has tiny blood-red, petal-free flowers. Blooms form narrowly, drooping tassel-like, terminal panicles throughout the growing season. Inspired by this shape, this cultivar is also commonly known as tassel flower. Each panicle hangs straight down to 12 inches and at times up to 24 inches long. Native to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, this annual typically grows two to five feet tall in North America. Seeds are edible and grown purposefully as a grain crop in parts of South America. Everlasting flowers retain their color and can be dried and included in attractive arrangements. The genus name actually comes from the Greek word amarantos, which means "unfading."

Welcome love-lies-bleeding to garden beds or borders to add a distinct, eye-catching aesthetic. Since it is an especially large annual, it may require staking. If there is no space for love-lies-bleeding in the ground, plant it in containers or hanging baskets. Flowers will attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Botanical Name Amaranthus caudatus (synonyms: Amaranthus edulis, Amaranthus leucocarpus, Amaranthus mantegazzianus)
Common Name  Love-Lies-Bleeding, Lovelies bleeding, Tassel flower, Foxtail amaranthor love-lies-bleeding
Plant Type  Annual
Mature Size  2 to 5 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun to part shade
Soil Type  Moist, average, well-drained, or poor
Soil pH  Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time  July to frost 
Flower Color  Red
Hardiness Zones  2 to 11 or 4 to 8, USDA
Native Area  South America (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador)
Toxicity  Certain species of Amaranthus are toxic if grown inorganically

Love-Lies-Bleeding Care

Starter plants can be found at many nurseries. Love-lies-bleeding also grows easily from seed, though flowers may not appear until about three months after sowing. After the last frost, sow seeds directly outdoors and space them 18 to 24 inches apart. If starting seeds indoors, start them 6-8 weeks before the last frost date then harden off plants just after the last frost date. Space smaller varieties eight to 12 inches apart and larger ones up to 18 inches apart. Once seeds sprout, the plant needs little maintenance.

Invasive Species

Amaranthus is known to be invasive or noxious in some areas. If the plant goes to seed and volunteer sprouts become too prolific, weed out the seedlings before they have a chance to become established.

Light

Position in full sun to part shade after the soil has warmed. The sun-loving plant thrives in quite warm weather and will not grow in full shade, but it does appreciate afternoon shade in exceptionally hot summer climates.

Soil

Grow love-lies-bleeding in mildly acidic soil of a pH between 5.5 to 6.5. While it grows well in average, well-draining, and well-fertilized soils, some gardeners say it has the best color when planted in poor soil. Any light (sandy), medium (loamy), or heavy (clay) soil will do. If fertilizing the plant, only use organic fertilizer.

Water

This fairly drought-resistant plant still benefits from good watering practice. Seeds require balanced moisture levels. Then, until seedlings are established and growing actively, they still require evenly moist soil. Once established, the love-lies-bleeding plant needs little attention.

Temperature and Humidity

Plants are not frost-hardy. The most cold-tolerant Amaranthus cultivars can tolerate temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In areas where there is no frost, it may last as a perennial. Love-lies-bleeding is sensitive to the length of the day and does not perform well in northern latitudes. Germination happens quickly in warm soil.

Is Love-Lies-Bleeding Toxic?

No members of this genus are known to toxic. However, when grown on nitrogen-rich soils nitrates can become concentrated in the leaves. This happens most readily on land where chemical fertilizers are used. Nitrates are known to cause stomach cancer, blue baby syndrome, and some other health issues. Therefore, you should not consume this plant if it is not grown organically. Plants that are grown organically are astringent, anthelmintic, and diuretic.

Cook the plant's leaves like one would spinach and add them to soups. The leaves, which are mildly flavored, are rich in vitamins and minerals. The seeds, which are also very nutritious, can also be cooked, or even popped like popcorn.

Varieties

Foliage often comes in an attractive pale green. The love-lies-bleeding Amaranthus cultivar ‘Tricolor’ has multi-colored foliage and is sometimes called ‘Joseph’s Coat.‘ ‘Viridis’ and ‘Green Thumb’ cultivars have green tassels. Here are two other varieties:

  • Amaranthus caudatus ‘Coral Fountain’ has wooly, pink or blush flowers that cascade like a waterfall. This heirloom variety blooms mid to late summer until the first frost and mingles well in bouquets. Growing 3 to 5 feet tall, it thrives in full sun in USDA Zones 2 through 11.
  • Amaranthus caudatus ‘Dreadlocks’ has magenta-colored blooms and sturdy stems. Blooming from late summer to fall, it grows a humble 3 to 4 feet tall. Like 'Coral Fountain,' 'Dreadlocks' is hardy in USDA Zones 2 through 11.

Propagation

You can use root cuttings to propagate plants. Harvest the seeds just before the plant matures to avoid losing any seed.

Common Pests and Diseases

Watch for aphids, root rot in poorly drained soils, and fungal leaf spot diseases.