May 2021 in the Garden at WLTX

May is one of my favorite months in the garden. Temperatures are warm enough for quick growth, but cool enough to limit plant stress. (Also, the weather is bearable for yard work!) Typically May in Columbia, SC is quite hot, but the first half of May 2021 has been much cooler than average. The average afternoon high through May 15 was only 79F this year (the climatological average is about 82F), and morning temperatures were about 4 degrees cooler than the climatological average. The “Famously Hot” city will live up to its name for the last week of May, but here’s a look at how the garden is responding to spring so far.

A look back at the segment when it aired on WLTX. You can read the article as it appears on HERE

Bush & Pole Beans

I started these plants from seed in early April. Beans are a great garden project to start with kids because of the large size of the seeds and quick germination rates. The bush beans just started flowering (that’s about 6 weeks after the seeds were planted). I expect they would have bloomed even faster if the weather was warmer at the start of this month. Bush beans are shorter growing and shorter lived than pole beans which are vining and require a trellis. It’s interesting the pole beans are growing slower than the bush beans so far. I will start more bush bean seeds in mid summer when the current plants begin to wind down.


Last September I planted two Cardoon plant seedlings for the winter garden. These plants have gorgeous silver leaves that get bigger and better with age! Cardoon is an artichoke relative, but they’re grown for their edible foliage. However, edible is a relative thing. I learned it’s quite bitter. Cardoon plants stay pretty all winter as long as temperatures stay above 15F (which is the case for most of our winters). As the weather warms up, these plants will leap into flower mode producing artichoke-looking flower buds. Maybe next year I will try an artichoke plant, which are grown for their edible flower buds. Artichokes are tough to grow in the southeastern US because the buds often erupt into flowers before they’re ready to pick because of our extreme heat.


I was gifted a few watermelon seeds from a fellow meteorologist, Mark Holley. The mother plant grew a 170 lb fruit – talk about big shoes (or rather fruit) to fill! I planted the seeds one month ago in mid-April and they are really starting to pick up speed. Watermelon prefer hot temperatures and kind of crawl when spring is cool like it’s been this year. That’s why I believe watermelon seeds can be started as late as May or even June in the south, although it’s better to start early. Watermelon take about 3 months after sprouting to begin producing fruit, so plants started from seed in April should have their first ripe fruits in July in my experience.

Malabar Spinach.

I am very excited to try this new plant for the first time! I actually got these seedlings from a nursery by my parents house in New York in late April. I brought it back down to South Carolina with me on the plane. (Pro-tip, most airlines will allow you to carry small plants on the plane if it’s a domestic flight!). Malabar Spinach is a vine that loves hot weather and can be eaten just like your typical spinach leaf. Clearly it’s not related to the common spinach (Spinacia oleracea), which is short growing and loves cool and short days. Malabar spinach needs a big space. I actually had to purchase a trellis for it.


This is actually the first year I’m growing cucumbers in my adult life, but funny enough, it was one of the only things growing in Gandy’s Garden when I started at WLTX in 2019. The garden was left to the weeds after Jim Gandy retired so there was absolutely no supplemental watering or care going on. However in the middle of the grass was a surviving cucumber plant from last year (maybe even the year before). Pretty impressive if you’ve ever had the pleasure of spending a hot summer in the South Carolina Midlands. It’s clear cucumbers are pretty easy to grow! You just need plenty of space. This year I opened up part of the lawn to an in-ground garden and cucumbers were the first thing to come to mind for the spot. I started these cucumber seeds in late March and they started flowering about 6 weeks after sprouting. I will have them climb up a trellis as they grow.


I learned a lot about tomatoes in 2020 and feel confident in my selections for this upcoming summer. “Sweet Million” was the biggest producer last season, and I am excited to have them back in the 2021 garden. I started them from seedlings in Mid April. I’m also growing Midnight Snack, which is another cherry type of tomato. Park Whopper Improved and Rutgers Tomatoes are both larger fruiting varieties. The Rutgers tomato is a “determinate” variety which requires less support to grow and great in pots. Determinate tomatoes are generally a heavier producer early in the season, but it will not fruit continuously like indeterminate varieties. Indeterminate tomatoes grow and fruit continuously if the right weather requirements are met.


I never grew peppers from seed before until this year, and by the way, it was an accident! A few banana peppers are coming back from the fruit I left on the ground by last year’s plants. Amazingly, these volunteers are now almost as tall as the seedlings purchased from the store. I decided to throw a few pepper seeds in pots on my porch in my apartment from the fruit at the supermarket and those are also sprouting. The bell peppers, Carolina reaper, and “Fooled You” peppers were planted in mid April as seedlings. There’s a little something for every pepper lover this year because Carolina Reaper are one of the hottest peppers in the world and “Fooled You” has a Jalapeno taste but none of the heat.


The White Casper Eggplant I started from seeds inside my house in late February, are beginning to flower. I’m really happy with their progress over the past few months. The eggplant seedlings I purchased from a local nursery in April were originally taller than my seed started eggplants, but the seed started eggplants have surpassed them in size and vigor. They’re different varieties, so I am not saying seed starting eggplant is going to result in plants that are healthier than from the store, but they’re certainly holding their own! It takes about 3 months for eggplant to begin flowering after sprouting and another month for fruit to ripen so eggplant fruits should be ready in late June from the white eggplant.

Winter Plants

The cool weather so far this season has been very beneficial for plants left over from the winter garden. I planted Kale and Romaine Lettuce seedlings in March they’re still alive and producing healthy foliage. The cilantro and parsley I planted last September are well past their prime and are now setting seed. The snow peas have grown vigorously this spring and are producing new pods each day. I started the snow peas from seed in October and they sat in the garden until the weather started to warm up in February. I don’t think it made a huge difference to start these in the Fall because they grew just as well last year when I started the seeds in the ground in early February.

There is so much more I could talk about, but I will save some of the conversation for another blog post! In the meantime, be sure to check out my social media for more updates and of course WLTX every weekday morning!

I’m now the proud owner of a trendy houseplant | Here’s why they’re in such high demand.

Today I made a very exciting plant purchase. If you’re like me and follow a lot of “plant people” on social media, you’ve seen gorgeous rare houseplants on so many people’s wishlist. Gone are the days where anthuriums are just for beautiful flowers – now people know about the incredible foliage on the rarer species in the genus!

I was looking to dabble into the world of trendy houseplants without buying something really high maintenance. Philodendron is a great plant genus that’s usually a winner for indoor growing. Anthuriums can be tricky, but there are a few species that make good indoor houseplants. With all of this considered, I decided to buy an Anthurium crystallinum, Philodendron tortum, and Philodendron Ring of Fire. I plan on keeping the philodendrons out on my porch during the summer and maybe bringing the Anthurium outside occasionally so it can experience some high humidity days and rain water. I am going to treat these like I do every other houseplant. This way I’ll truly see if they’re finicky or low maintenance.

From left to right: Anthurium crystallinum, Philodendron “Ring of Fire”, Philodendron tortum.

Anthurium crystallinum

Anthurium crystallinum is beyond gorgeous. The foliage pattern is a work of art and if you look closely, you’ll see sparkles within the leaf veins. This plant can’t handle direct light, although mine will receive some bright morning sunlight right against my north facing window. I am going to plant it in a mix of sphagnum moss and peat moss.

What I’m most excited for: New leaves! I can’t wait to see what this plant looks like when it’s full. It’s a show stopper even with just 3 leaves

My biggest concern: Can I meet its humidity requirements indoors? I plan on bringing it outside throughout the summer so it can get the humidity it needs, but winter in South Carolina is dry. I feel there may be a point in my life where I am literally taking a shower with this plant – I wish I was kidding! (Would anyone even be surprised?)

Philodendron tortum

This plant instantly grabbed my attention because its foliage looks like a palm tree. It’s also known as a skeleton philodendron – which I personally don’t think is very flattering. Let’s call it a palm tree philodendron (or perhaps by it’s botanical name, Philodendron tortum!). It’s a climbing plant, but it seems to stay relatively small, at least for a while.

What I’m most excited for: A “palm tree look” without the palm tree size! There are very few plants that can replicate lacy palm fronds and stay tiny. This plant will look amazing on the windowsill and right on my patio table during the summer months.

My biggest concern: Will it be happy in regular potting mix? I am considering splurging on a specially developed philodendron mix. You can find these soil mixes online from various sources, and it might be worth the extra money. Time will tell!

Philodendron “Ring of Fire”

I actually didn’t intend to by this plant. I had an Anthurium warocqueanum in my hand when I looked down and realized that was going to be a huge pain to keep alive. One of the nursery staff saw me put the Anthurium down and said “I thought you were going to pick up the ring of fire”. Of course I couldn’t ignore what fate had in store and decided to give this beauty a try.

What I’m excited for: This plant fills my appetite for variegated foliage patterns (and then some). The new leaves emerge with reddish and pink tones, which is why it’s given the nickname “ring of fire”. It seems to be a large and vigorous grower. I LOVE obnoxious big plants. If that means I can’t have company in my living room, so be it! My plants are all the company I need.

My biggest concern: I don’t have one yet. That’s actually what I’m most worried about. Is this plant going to be more difficult than I’m anticipating? We’ll find out together!

I’m far from a plant newbie, but the trendy houseplant world is definitely new to me – and to the world. I remember buying my first plant when I was just 8 years old. It was a Dracaena fragrans (corn plant) and nearly 20 years later, that same plant is still alive and well at my parents house. To this day, I think of all the fun I had choosing plants with my grandma, but in the year 2021, the hobby has also been adopted by plenty of my peers. Millennials have made houseplants cool – and their popularity is soaring to record levels. Look at the google search trend for the three plant species I purchased. Few if any people were interested in googling them prior to about 2019. Their popularity skyrocketed after April 2020, and has remained high ever since. Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge influence on the houseplant hobby and gardening in general.

Google trend for Anthurium crystallinum, Philodendron “Ring of Fire”, and Philodendron tortum.

My favorite thing about gardening is how accessible it is to anyone. You can start a garden without any money at all, and it’ll be beautiful. However, if you’re looking for a plant in short supply with huge demand, it will cost you a lot! On eBay, the most expensive plant cuttings go for more than $3000. (We’re talking unrooted stems here!). To make matters even worse, there are a lot of plant scammers out there online, so do your research.

Would you rather a house plant or a downpayment on a house? Decisions, Decisions! These are legitimate plant auctions on eBay. Yikes!

When demand was lower, these plants were a lot less expensive. I remember at a Rutgers plant sale (my alma mater) in 2015, there was a beautiful variegated Monstera for around $50. Anthurium clarinervium was only $10 at that sale – now they’re worth more than $100! The day will come when a variegated Monstera isn’t going to cost $600! Many of these plants are pretty easy to propagate so in a few years, I do think supply will catch up and prices will drop. Philodendron burkin is a prime example. The plant was very difficult to find a few years ago, but it’s available in Lowes now. I do think the popularity of plants in the pandemic will continue to push prices up. There are more people buying plants than ever. There’s a lot of power in patience when it comes to gardening. If you don’t have the money for the plant you want now – just bookmark that web page and come back to it in a few years!

“Rutgers Day” Plant Sale on Cook Campus. April 2015.

Wisteria: It’s a beauty AND a beast if you choose the wrong one

I opened up my car window the other day and was cradled by the beautiful smells of early April in South Carolina, courtesy of the forest of purple wisteria blooms. These plants light up the forest each spring as they reach into the tops of even the tallest trees. That’s part of the problem. The most common wisteria species in the southeast actually don’t even belong here and are choking off our beautiful native plants in the process.

Non-Native Wisteria

Japanese and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda & Wisteria sinensis) aren’t native to the southern states, but they’re iconic and are all over the place. That’s probably not by choice, because these vines are impossible to get rid of. The vines produce a thicket of roots and offshoots all around them choking plants that grow underneath and eventually toppling all but the strongest trees. Not exactly what a home gardener has in mind for perfect pergola plant! They also only bloom 2-3 weeks a year. The blooms are here for a good time, not a long time as I like to say! Unfortunately the vines are here to stay.

Wisteria trees, are just Japanese or Chinese wisteria vines that have been trained to stand upright overtime and come with all the same problems. These trees are a constant maintenance project because the plants grow out of control so quickly, offshoots readily pop up around the mother plant, and birds eat wisteria seeds and drop them in other parts of the yard or in nearby forests.

Native Wisteria

Fortunately, there’s an alternative that’s better. Let me introduce our beautiful native wisteria, Wisteria frutescens! I planted one for my parents in New York City sold as “Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls'”. Let me say, it was instant gratification because it’s better than our non-native wisteria in so many ways. American Wisteria still produces the beautiful chandeliers of blooms (I’ll admit the blooms are smaller and the fragrance is more subtle, but the look is similar!). Unlike Japanese or Chinese wisteria, American wisteria are the perfect size for a garden arbor or pergola and bloom at a younger age. The most exciting part is American Wisteria will occasionally re-bloom in the summer!

I’ve had only positive experiences with Wisteria frutescens and highly recommend it to anyone interested in growing wisteria. Some internet gardeners claim American Wisteria is slow growing, but that has not been my experience at all. My parent’s vines grow about 4-6 feet each season which is the perfect speed to carefully train the vine to grow the way you want. The American Wisteria I planted for them will completely cover the pergola about 4 years after I planted it which seems very reasonable to me.

Another thing I love is how well this vine cooperates with other nearby plants. I planted a Passiflora caerulea with the Wisteria frutescens and they’re practically best friends. When one plant stops blooming, the other starts and the star shaped leaves on the Passiflora blend pretty nicely with the Wisteria. Passiflora incarnata would have been a better choice to keep everything native, but I haven’t had as much luck with incarnata in my parent’s yard.

Next time you see a plant you love, start digging for native alternatives. Sometimes you’ll find a plant that’s even better than the one on your wish list proving you don’t have to sacrifice creativity just because you’re planting native!

The moment I became a gardener

Alex's Porch

Plants can’t speak, but they’d have a lot to say about weather and climate if they could. I’m a meteorologist by profession and an avid gardener. I’ve been turning my parents’ New York City backyard into a tropical oasis ever since I was 13 years old. Now I grow fresh fruits and vegetables at work and share my success and failures with all our viewers.

As the years go by, the line between my career and my hobby is getting blurry. I’m learning more each growing season about how plants respond to environmental stress, and I’m learning more about myself too. My hard work and patience are rewarded with beautiful plants that give me so much happiness and food!

How fell in love with gardening

The garden bug bit me early. (I’ve been getting bit by plenty of actual bugs ever since, by the way!) I grew up in New York City, but my family would spend a few weeks in Florida every summer. I didn’t grow up around a lot of trees or thunderstorms in the city, but Florida was a total contrast. The thunderstorms were right on schedule every evening, and the palm trees looked so graceful dancing in the gusty downpours. I was hooked! I watched Florida’s palm trees breeze through some of the strongest storms of my childhood. It made me wonder why such resilient trees weren’t growing in New York. I refused to take “it’s too cold” for an answer!

There are thousands of different species of palm trees. Their fruits range from coconuts, dates, and the – currently very trendy – acai. Some species thrive in hot deserts, others grow in saltwater. Palms give off such an exotic vibe, but some, like the Sabal palmetto, are US native and have historical significance. In 1776, the British army’s cannons were no match for a fort on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina that was built using Sabal palmetto trunks. The palmetto has been on South Carolina’s state flag since 1861. The tree is so significant in its own right that many southerners don’t realize it’s just one of the dozens of native palm trees to the southeastern US.

Palm trees can handle a lot of rough weather, but they are a goner as soon as temperatures get too low. You won’t see a New York street lined with palm trees in the middle of winter anytime soon, but our climate is changing. I was only in the 9th grade when I planted my first palm tree in the ground in New York City. That was almost 15 years ago and those palm trees are still alive today.

Spring 2012 VS Summer 2020 in my parents’s New York City Backyard

Over the years I filled my parents’ yard with hundreds of plants. Some of them were tropical, others were really unusual, and a few produced amazing fruit. New Yorkers are known for taking things at a fast pace, but my neighbors would take things a little slower when passing by our front yard. I was able to have conversations with neighbors that would have otherwise passed by.

Gardening & My Career

I moved away from New York in 2017 to take my TV career to warmer pastures, and I took my passion for plants with me. When I worked in Gainesville, FL I had a weekly segment called “What’s Growing On” that featured all the latest agriculture news in north Florida and gave tips to gardeners. At work, I planted flowers and succulents in a courtyard that was previously covered in thorny weeds. Gardening once again proved to be an amazing way to connect with people, but instead of neighbors, I was having conversations with viewers and co-workers.

Right now I’m living in South Carolina where I’m living my dream job. I’m a morning meteorologist, but I’m also a gardener. WLTX’s, now-retired, former chief meteorologist Jim Gandy created a garden space where he shared grew fruits and vegetables and shared garden and climate stories with his viewers. Now I’m gardening in that space and sharing weekly stories about the connection between plants and climate. It’s important for viewers to be informed about how fragile our food supply is and to be empowered to make their yards greener and tastier. When viewers stop me in the store, the garden is the first thing they want to hear about! It’s so popular that I created a garden community on Facebook where I can have conversations with viewers about their gardens and share their advice, questions, and photos on our morning show.

A home garden is one of the greatest investments a person can make. Produce at the grocery stores can come from thousands of miles away in an expensive endeavor that uses a lot of resources and is not often environmentally sustainable. Growing food at home doesn’t have to take up a lot of space or cost a lot of money. Gardeners can choose to grow plant varieties that aren’t available at the grocery store without any added chemicals. All it takes is a pot of basil or a tomato that started sprouting from the compost pile to bring nature into everyday life. The end result is often a beautiful green space that gives more than it needs and can be enjoyed with family and friends for years to come.