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Cold-hardy Bromeliads

air date: July 26, 2014

Curvaceous cold-hardy bromeliads—can we grow them? Horticulturist Scott Ogden shares his plant driven bromeliad passion. Daphne explains why flowers turn to the sun. Her Plant of the Week is hummingbird magnet for sun and shade, Firecracker fern. Merrideth Jiles shows how to divide bromeliads. On tour, two neighbors united the neighborhood when they took out their lawns.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Vegetable/ornamental No-lawn Makeover | Ann & Robin Matthews

Ann & Robin Matthews took the big plunge: take out all the grass, even in front, and replace it with vegetables, wildlife plants, and living spaces. They include hand-made art at every step (including home-made stepping stones), and even built a screen imprinted with Native American rock art impressions. See how they tuck in rain barrels at every gutter to water their plants, and how they blended their garden with their neighbor for a resourceful neighborly connection.


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Question of the Week

Why do flowers turn to the sun?

With some plants this is more noticeable than others. The most striking example may be sunflowers, whose sunny faces can be seen to move, ever so slowly, across the horizon perfectly in step with the sun’s arc.

If you’re an aspiring plant nerd and you want to impress your friends with your amazing botanical knowledge, this phenomenon is known in scientific terms as heliotropism.

And along with its scientific name, there is a highly scientific explanation for how certain plants achieve this somewhat amazing feat of movement. Basically, certain cells in the plant, like in sunflowers, at the base of the flower stalk, respond to the blue wavelength of sunlight by changing the water pressure in those basal cells, allowing the cells to stretch and turn.

This maximizes the plant’s ability to capture sunlight, and so it maximizes photosynthesis. But there are also times when plants want LESS sun, so heliotropism allows them to change the orientation of their leaves to avoid the harshest rays when the sun is directly overhead. Amazing!


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Plant of the Week

Firecracker Fern

Firecracker Fern

Russelia equisetiformis

Want firecrackers for your hummingbirds and textural addition even in part shade spots? Although often evergreen, perennial firecracker fern may freeze to the ground in harsh winters. But this reliable drought-tough plant returns quickly. It produces new growth from the roots and spreads to about 3' wide. It's listed as getting four feet tall, but the lazy, drooping growth habit will make it seem much shorter. The stems are not strong enough to support their length, so they droop over, creating lovely, cascading effect that is well suited for raised beds and other overhanging spaces. When young, the plants have small, almost round leaves tucked in tightly along the thin green stems. As the plant matures, these leaves become insignificant, most of them dropping off, leaving the stem to conduct photosynthesis and feed the plant. Covered in bright pink to deep red flowers all summer long, firecracker fern makes a stunning addition to any garden, especially when shown off next to highly contrasting colors, like our beautiful native limestone blocks, often used to build retaining walls and raised beds. It's covered in blooms from late spring through summer, and the tubular red flowers are well-loved by hummingbirds. Shearing back the stems once flowers are spent will encourage more blooming, and a heavier shearing in late winter, back to about six inches or all the way to the ground if there was complete winter dieback, will thoroughly reinvigorate this aggressive grower.