When starting something new, it is always a good idea to match your skills to the project and gardening is no different. Many new gardeners become frustrated when they choose plants that require more ability than they have at the moment. The problem is learning how to match the plants with your skill level.
Gomphrena globosea is an easy plant that thrives in poor soil and hot conditions. It even withstands a bit of drought once it is established, so it can survive careless watering habits. The colorful, papery bracts shine like little beacons in the garden and last for a very long time, so there's quite a bit of bang for the buck. New gardeners should consider this plant because it is tough and experienced gardeners should add it to their borders and cutting gardens, It even works well in containers. I've added it to some of my containers this year and it has done well paired with lantana and pineapple sage.
Globe amaranth is the common name for this annual, native to Panama and Guatemala. As a member of the vast Amaranthus tribe, it shares a number of things in common with its cousins. One in particular is the meaning behind the name Amaranth. It is derived from the Greek, amarantos, which translates as 'unfading'. This is because the papery outer bracts are not the actual flowers, but a shield for the more delicate reproductive areas. We also call these plants everlastings because of this trait as well and they are often used as decorative additions to potpourri and dried arrangements. As with a number of plants in this family, the young leaves are edible and are often used as potherbs in their native lands.
This is an annual plant that completes its life cycle in one season, so it is a good choice for the impatient. Children like quick gratification and globe amaranth gives them a great show the same season it is planted, unlike perennial plants that may take two or three seasons to flower. Since it is forgiving of neglect, it is a good choice for children's gardens and where quick color is needed. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the bright blooms too, so add them to your pollinator gardens. If those attributes don't convince you, then add that deer tend to avoid it. So if Bambi is a nuisance, globe amaranth may be a good choice.
While these plants do well in poor soil and hot conditions, they will thrive in richer soil with regular water. Plant seeds in early spring after the last frost, or start indoors under lights 6 to 8 weeks before setting them outdoors in a sunny area. For faster germination, soak the seeds overnight in water. These seeds are also easy to save for next year, just crumble the spent flower heads and the fuzzy, white seeds will be obvious. Store in a cool, dry place until spring. Once the plants have several sets of true leaves, pinch them back to encourage branching. This will produce more flowers in the long run. Once the flowers start to bloom, there is no need to deadhead since the colorful bracts remain attractive all summer. Mature plants grow between 1 and 3 feet tall, so they make a good addition to the middle border or as part of a cottage garden. Mulch helps retain even moisture in the soil and that makes for healthy plants too. If you must give your globe amaranth supplemental water, do so in the mornings so the leaves have a chance to dry during the day. They are susceptible to powdery mildew if foliage remains damp for long periods.
These pretty little plants are attracting the interest of the medical community as well. The leaves contain antioxidants and research is showing anti-cancer properties too. Globe amaranth has long been a folk medicine for treating diarrhea, diabetes and high blood pressure in its native regions and research is promising in those fields, so its usefulness is being recognized in mainstream medicine now. It is refreshing to see that medicine is looking to the natural world for treatments and cures as opposed to filling us full of more chemicals.
There are various shades of pink, purple, white and red available and many vendors offer seeds. Many garden centers and nurseries even offer seedlings in the spring along with petunias and marigolds, so it should be easy to pick up some for next year's garden. These are easy and forgiving plants that new gardeners should take note of. Since they are annuals, they can be a placeholder in the garden until more skills are learned. Experienced gardeners like them because they are low maintenance plants that give an impressive show, while they turn their nurturing efforts to the more finicky. They make long lasting cut flowers and crafters like them for their durable blossom heads. So, whether you are new to gardening or an old hand, globe amaranth is an excellent choice for everyone.