MANTS recap: a return to form

More than 11,000 converged on Baltimore, Maryland for the Jan. 11-13 trade show.

Attendees leave the Baltimore Convention Center's Charles St. lobby after a busy day at MANTS 2023.
Matt McClellan

After several complicated years, the green industry attended MANTS 2023 in droves. Attendees and exhibitors alike were upbeat and champing at the bit from the opening bell. The 53rd annual MANTS show boasted strong attendance, with 11,300 registered attendees. Additionally, 3,499 non-exhibiting companies were represented at the show. Once again living up to its tagline of “MANTS means business,” 85 percent of attendees identified themselves as either the final decision maker or those who influence their companies’ purchasing decisions. 

Every exhibitor we surveyed was upbeat about the show. One Tennessee wholesale grower said he sold more plants in two hours than he did in two days last year.  

© Matt McClellan
Jonathan Pedersen, president/CEO, Monrovia

We spoke with Monrovia president and CEO Jonathan Pedersen about the company’s recent research into consumer behavior. He was encouraged to find out that the “COVID gardeners” who picked the hobby up during the pandemic and ensuing lockdown were still actively gardening. They were spending less, but they hadn’t been discouraged and disappeared.  

“It’s a positive sign that we are going to be able to keep a lot of those newcomers into gardening and landscape projects,” Pedersen said. “What we’re seeing is those projects have maybe gotten a little smaller.” 

Other trends driving consumer behavior: water, pollinators and edibles. 

He also shared how the pandemic paved the way for the return of QR codes to tags. The technology was ahead of the consumer when companies first started using them on their tags more than 10 years ago.  

“When they first came out, nobody knew what they were,” Pedersen said. “ Now because of COVID, everybody does.” 

Monrovia is bringing the codes back on all its tags, now that consumers are used to scanning them at restaurants to bring up the menu, and smartphone manufacturers have integrated the scanner into their on-board camera apps. 

Sustainability was another noticeable trend at the show. Prides Corner Farms will launch Green Tree Revolution in the spring/summer. Everything about the process will be sustainable, from the production methods to the fabric grow bags. The goal with this launch is to target the homeowner and overall combat climate change, according to Jack Sellew, wholesale yard manager at Prides Corner Farms.

Rusty Oak Nursery, out of Valley City, Ohio, had a novel booth idea: “Hug a tree, get a T.” Using a paint roller, a metal frame bolted to a tree trunk and plenty of plain white t-shirts, the nursery had a constant stream of onlookers ready to take home a shirt emblazoned with the Rusty Oak name and logo. 

©Matt McClellan
Rusty Oak Nursery's MANTS booth

Field manager and grower Kirk Cekada said the process gave the Rusty Oak team more time than usual to have a meaningful conversation with potential customers. 


New plant parade 

Sweet Starlight is a new hydrangea paniculata from Star Roses and Plants. It’s more compact than many H. paniculata, with a 2-5 foot height. Tom O’Connell, director of sales and licensing for Star Roses and Plants says it’s tailor-made for that under-the-window spot. Another sticking point with that type of hydrangea is floppy stems. O’Connell says one of the breeding objectives for this plant was sturdy stems that would be able to hold a load of flowers without flopping. It has been in the works for six years. 

© Matt McClellan, Sweet Starlight hydrangea

“We take a look at what’s commercially available and say, ‘Is there an opportunity to improve this particular genus?’” O'Connell said. “Well, one of the attributes we need to improve on is strong, sturdy stems on a more contained plant that presents well in the container and performs well in the landscape. That’s where we started. And that plant hit all of those breeding objectives.” 

Butterfly Candy buddleia from Plant Development Services, Inc., got a lot of attention at the show. Pollinators are popular now, and that’s not only bees. Young consumers want to attract butterflies to their gardens. PDSI offers 5 different varieties of the dwarf buddleia, which is well-mannered compared to the species. It stops short at 2-3 feet tall and generally stays in place instead of taking over the landscape. 

©Katie McDaniel
Butterfly Candy buddleia

Other new plants and products were showed off to media members at MANTS. Pop Star, the latest addition to the Endless Summer line of hydrangea macrophylla, hits retail in 2023. Alec Charais, chief marketing and development officer at Bailey Nurseries, said this plant is ready for its closeup after rigorous trials and years of development. Charais said the hydrangea benefits from genetics from noted hydrangea breeder Michael Dirr. Bailey acquired Dirr’s Plant Introductions, Inc. in 2015. 

Another new plant that took off at MANTS 2023 is Private Jet arborvitae from Bloomin’ Easy Plants. DeVonne Friesen, executive vice president of Van Belle Nursery and president of Curoplant Company, the IP license holder and owner of the Bloomin’ Easy brand said the rich emerald arb is perfect for those craving privacy in their backyards. It has a dense and columnar habit but the most exciting improvement is its accelerated growth rate of up to 24 inches per year.  

Watch for more MANTS 2023 coverage in the February issue of Nursery Management.


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