MANTS goes virtual; still means business
MANTS attendees were able to search exhibitor profiles via the virtual tradeshow floorplan.
Matt McClellan

MANTS goes virtual; still means business

The trade show took place Jan. 6-8 and included a virtual exhibit hall and educational webinars.


The 51st annual Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show was different than any that preceded it. More than 550 green industry suppliers registered for the MANTS Business Hub, the venerable January trade show’s answer to the virtual exhibition hall. If you registered for the online MANTS Business Hub, it will remain open for 90 days. 

More than 1,000 attendees and buying companies registered for the virtual event, which took place Jan. 6-8 and included opportunities to set up business meetings, have casual or serious conversations, or view educational webinars from exhibitors. Of those registered attendees, 94% were final decision-makers or influenced purchasing decisions.  

“We’ve got really high-quality buyers on the hub,” said Vanessa Finney, executive vice president of MANTS.  

On Jan. 6, Hoffman Nursery presented the first of three “Chat with the Breeder” sessions. John Hoffman spoke to breeder Dave MacKenzie of Hortech about his selection, Andropogon gerardii Karl’s Cousin. MacKenzie says he was traveling along a highway when he caught a glimpse of the big bluestem. It got its name after MacKenzie heard someone say, “It’s the ‘Karl Foerster’ of big bluestem. Karl’s Cousin has a tight, upright habit. Basal foliage begins as green-blue, with stems, leaves and flowers turning shades of purple-blue as the season progresses. With the plume, it grows up to 7 feet tall and resists flopping. It’s hardy in Zones 4-8.  

Corbett Falgout of Senninger Irrigation reviewed some irrigation system management tips such as how to select the core components of a system, including pumps, piping, pressure regulators, and sprinklers. Next, he introduced Corey Lambert of Buckhorn Nursery in Zolfo Spring, Florida who explained how Buckhorn has reworked sections of the nursery for improved performance by replacing sprinklers, lowering system pressure, and finding the right mix between overhead irrigation and drippers.  

Rosarian Ping Lim provided an update on the True Bloom rose program, available through Altman Plants. Lim and his team are breeding for attributes such as disease and insect resistance, fragrance, hardiness, vigor and ease of propagation. Lim says of the roses in the program, “All of the beauty and none of the drama.” He highlighted the varieties new for this year including Lion King, Tea Time, Tropica and Vigo. 

Laura Robles of Walters Gardens explains the improvements in ‘Banana Cream II' during the MANTS new product showcase. 

Finney presided over a new product showcase on Jan. 7, in which four panelists presented intriguing new products for the industry. Rick Watson president and manager of The Perennial Farm introduced several plants, including Nepeta ‘Cat’s Meow’ a deer-resistant cultivar of the 2021 Perennial Plant of the Year. Morgan Rider, a co-founder of Thriving Design, showed the C-Bite Garden Clips, which easily snaps to garden stakes to allow gardeners to build their own trellises, cages or other plant supports. J. Holland Jordan, vice president of marketing and business for The Whole Gardener, LLC’s Plant Nutrient Kit, showed the IGC-friendly flagship product, a kit that includes four nutrient products, a recipe book with “recipes” for 200 plants, measuring cups and an applicator. It’s designed to be a total package for the gardener, who can use the recipes and the included nutrients to create a custom fertilizer blend to meet the needs of whatever plant they want to grow. Lastly, Laura Robles, regional product manager at Walters Gardens, introduced several new plants, including ‘Edge of Night,’ the most compact hibiscus in the SUMMERIFIC line and the improved Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream II.’

Arnulfo Hinojosa, vice president with the Federation of Employers & Workers of America, provided an update on H-2A and H-2B guest worker programs during a Jan. 7 informational chat. Webinar attendees were able to ask questions about the program, including predictions for how a new administration will impact the processing of visas. 

MANTS also hosted a series of webinars from the Syn-RG group, which consists of five founding nurseries: Prides Corner Farm, Overdevest Nurseries, Willoway Nurseries, Saunders Brothers Nursery and Sheridan Nurseries. On Jan. 7, the Syn-RG group invited Michael Dirr to introduce his new hydrangeas. The three macrophylla species are Froggie, Azure Skies and Rock-N-Roll. Froggie is a mophead type with flowers that emerge green and turn pink. The larger, thicker sepals persist and hold color in heat and drought. Azure Skies flowers from May to June and again in September to October.  Rock-N-Roll features a rich saturated pink without aluminum and periwinkle blue with aluminum. It’s highly resistant to mildew and Cercospora leaf spot. 

In its second of three “Chat with the Breeder” sessions, John Hoffman met with Piet Oudolf about Panicum virgatum ‘Purple Tears’. Oudolf discovered this switchgrass in Hummelo, Netherlands. He selected it for its narrow, upright habit and the soft-gray flowering spikes and purple seed heads. 

The Horticultural Research Institute hosted the tHRIve winter garden party Thursday evening, and emcee Harvey Cotten announced the annual donations to the various funds, including the Paul & Tatum Saunders Research Fund, the Overdevest Nurseries Research Fund and the Oregon Nursery Industry Endowment Fund. The newly established Pleasant View Gardens Scholarship Fund and the Dennis Walters Scholarship Fund were introduced, and Dan and Kathy Batson of GreenForest Nursery established the GreenForest Nursery/Gulf States Fund in honor of their twin grandsons. Brian Decker, president of Decker’s Nursery, challenged his fellow nursery owners to a $1,000 donation match in honor of the nursery’s 100-year anniversary. Several nurseries responded, including Scarff’s Nursery in memory of Peter Scarff and Willoway Nurseries, which multiplied the match by four. In total, HRI received more than $300,000 in donor gifts during the reception. 

The new logo and tagline

Emily Bibens Chung, the executive director of Syn-RG, LLC, debuted the new logo and tagline for Handpicked For You in a Jan. 8 webinar. Aside from the reveal, she explained the program, which is a collaboration between growers and IGC retailers to tests and evaluate new plants, with the goal of awarding only the best tested and most trusted new plants the Handpicked for You® trustmark.

“We believe the IGC channel is the best channel to get the best plants to consumers,” she said. “That’s why you will not find the Handpicked For You trustmark at big-box stores.” 

Attendees were able to search exhibitor profiles via the virtual tradeshow floorplan, alphabetized exhibitor list, or dive into more specific sections of the Hub to explore featured and new product information, images, and videos. Attendees were also given an allotted number of emails and appointments they could use to reach out and schedule conversations with exhibitors.  

When the trade show is able to take place in the Baltimore Convention Center, as it does in a normal year, it’s a sight to behold. For its 50th anniversary in 2020, MANTS had 968 exhibitors and more than 12,000 total registrants (including exhibitors). 

After a year of events going virtual, attendees and organizers alike expressed hope that they’ll be able to gather in person again soon. 

“The MANTS show is a show that being there and meeting people is what it’s all about,” Rick Watson, said. 

MANTS 2022 will take place Jan. 5-7, 2021.