If you would like to grow unique plants that have just as unique histories then the amaranthus is for you. The amaranthus plant has feed ancient people for thousands of years. The leaves of this plant are edible and taste a lot like spinach. The seeds, on the other hand, have been used as a grain for man and beast.
Before you decide to grow this annual, there are a few things one needs to consider. First, this plant needs a lot of space. Some of the varieties can reach 8 feet in height and the girth can spread a foot or wider. This plant also requires a location that receives full sun. As far as the soil type goes, the limiting factor for this plant is drainage. The best environment for amaranthus is a well draining, loamy soil but it can survive in other soil types as long as it is well draining. The last factor that one needs to take into consideration is the length of the growing season. For this plant, this means 110 to 150 days depending on the variety and environmental conditions.
Once you have considered all the factors, the next step is the planting process. If you live in an area that has a long growing season, you can simply sow directly into the prepared soil. On the other hand, if you do not live in an area by which the 110 to 150 days growth requirement is going to be a problem then you will need to start your amaranthus inside.
To plant your amaranthus outside, you will first need to prepare the garden space. This begins with removing any existing plant material and turning over the soil. Since amaranthus love nitrogen and phosphorous, add a good amount of well seasoned compost to the soil and work in. After that is done, check your garden calendar. Amaranthus is very sensitive to the cold and you should only plant your seed after your local frost free date.
Once that date has arrived, pull out your ruler and begin planting. Why pull out the ruler? Well, to get the biggest bang for your buck you will need to space your seed so that there is 10 to 12 inches between the seeds. After you have the measurement, sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil surface and top with ¼ inch of soil. Gently push down on the soil and water in.
If you live in an area that does not have a long growing season then you will need to start the seed indoors but before you do that you will again need to pull out your calendar. Amaranthus seed will need to be started 8 to 10 weeks prior to your local frost free date. Once you have the date, you can begin to plan the indoor planting process.
To begin this process, you will first need to pull out some 6 inch peat pots. Once you have your peat pots, fill each one with a good, all purpose potting soil. Next, plant one seed per pot and place in a flat. Continue with this process until you have all the seed planted. As you may have noticed, I only mentioned planting one seed per container. If space is a problem, plant more than one seed per peat pot but keep in mind you will be losing some of these seedlings through thinning.
After all the seeds have been planted, fill the flat with water and allow the peat pots water the seeds for you though capillary action. Pour off any excess water once the soil is moist.
Place your planted peat pots in a sunny location and in a week to three weeks, you should have germination. Continue to care for your amaranthus seedlings until your local frost free date has arrived.
About two weeks prior to your local frost free date, you will need to harden off your seedlings. This process is simple to do. To harden off your seedlings, gradually expose them to their outdoor environment over a two week period. After that, your plants are ready to plant in the garden.
When the day comes that you are ready to plant your amaranthus in the garden, you will first need to mark off the garden space. Amaranthus at this stage will need to be planted so that there are 18 inches between plants. To mark off the space in the garden, simple sprinkle powdered milk on the spots by which you plan on planting amaranthus.
Next, dig the hole so that it is no deeper than the peat pot and twice the width. Once the hole is dug, place the peat pot in the hole and fill in. Repeat the process with the remaining pots. After all the seedlings have been planted, water them in.
Water the seedlings once or twice a week until they are well established in their new home. After that time period has passed, only water during dry times.
As far as fertilization goes, only fertilize once or twice a growing season. Since this plant loves nitrogen and phosphorous, you need to use a fertilizer formulation whose first and second number are the highest.
One of the key points of raising amaranthus is the fact that when it is young it looks like other plants, such as lamb quarters or red rooted pigweed. To prevent from pulling up the young amaranthus early in the season, make sure to plant the seed and/or plants in rows. Another approach is to mix the amaranthus seed with carrot or radish seed. Having these plants present will help define where the amaranthus is located.
Whether or not you plan on eating the seed, amaranthus seed should be collected for next year’s planting. To do this, allow the flower to fully mature and begin to turn brown. At that time, cut off the flower stalks and place in a paper bag. Do not place them in a plastic bag. The plastic will cause the flower stalks to sweat and the seeds to mold. After the flower stalks have been in the paper bag for a few weeks, begin to shake the bag to separate the seed from the flower stalk. As you see the seeds accumulate in the bottom of the paper bag, simple collect and place in a labeled paper envelope.