The Biggest Garden Show Around

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950 booths of nursery-related products are displayed at the Baltimore Convention Center in mid-January and is one of the largest nursery garden trade shows in the United States.

In mid-January, the Baltimore Convention Center hosts one of the country’s biggest nursery garden trade shows.  It was established in 1970 and is sponsored by nurserymen’s associations in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. For over 50 years, the trade show, simply known as MANTS, has been growing and adapting to new innovations in gardening. 

The purpose of the show is to stimulate commerce and over 11,000 visitors attend the three-day event. The motto of MANTS is it means business. By the number of serious dealmaking conversations in the more than 950 booths, business was brisk this year.  Norman Cole, current President of MANTS says that “87% of attendees either make or influence their company’s buying decisions from their MANTS experience.”

MANTS is a great way for local garden centers and landscapers to find out
availability of plants for the spring season

Every year the board of the tradeshow surveys the vendors to see what is working and what changes might improve the experience.  Each year the overwhelming answer is nothing, keep the show the way it is. There is a waiting list of more than 150 vendors to get in each year, so something must be working. This is the place to come to see what plants, and especially shrubs and trees, are going to be available this spring for purchase by landscapers and garden centers. 

The vendors come from almost every state, as well as Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and South Africa. Over time, MANTS transitioned from showing only green plants to providing exhibitors everything you need to operate a nursery business. For instance, computer software companies, five different insurance companies, GPS services, and other business services have booths.  Nine different vendors provide choices of greenhouses and equipment.  Whether you need an “Earthlifter,” a new kind of hoe, or need the “Turbo II” Humberbee, rough terrain equipment that lifts up to 4,000 pounds, you can find it here.

Educating as well as Selling

One of the first booths I stumbled across was Tree Diaper, a company out of Ashland, Virginia. It is a patented multi-functional plant rain and irrigation system that catches and releases rain or irrigation water year-round.  The product, which looks like a black donut to go around your tree, can prevent root rot.  And guess who is one of the Tree Diaper customers?  It is our own US Capitol grounds. The Architect of the Capitol arborists have been trying them out. Amy McHugh, who handles sales and technical support for Tree Diaper, says being at MANTS not only lets her meet users of the product, but gives her a chance to answer questions and provide tips for customers.  Mulch can be put on top of the donut. 

The US National Arboretum had an informational booth and had many kinds of plant research and reports to share. A map of the new hardiness zones was of keen interest to many, and a QR code helped attendees find the right zone. Capitol Hill has moved a half of zone to a warmer zone.

The US National Arboretum was also present at the show this year. The booth was very busy with attendees asking questions about the research being done on nursery-grown woody plants at the Dept. of Agriculture’s McMinnville, Tennessee facility. The type of research conducted by the Dept. of Agriculture staff is invaluable to nurseries, who need to protect the plants and their livelihood. Dr. Jake Shreckhise’s recent research which focused on growth, cold-hardiness, flowering, and disease resistance of Camellia cultivars was of special interest. A lot of winter blooming camellias are seen this time of year on Capitol Hill. The Arboretum staff have been leaders in the propagation and discovery of new varieties of camellias over the years. The nine-year study showed that camellias were greatly impacted by low temperatures. The study measured growth and blooms, and the plants were evaluated for leaf spot and edema.

Updated USDA Planting Zones

A large map showing the updated USDA plant hardiness zones was also a popular feature at the National Arboretum’s booth. On November 15, 2023, USDA issued changes in the country’s hardiness zones.  More than half the country went a half a step up to warmer conditions.  Capitol Hill’s zone changed from 7B to 8A.  In most of the areas, there was a 2.5 degree increase in warmth.  The zones are developed to determine which perennial plants are most likely to thrive at standard temperatures.

Arboretum staff said that the change is important to note, but it is not too dramatic in the overall scheme of things.  It is something that gardeners will start seeing this spring and should note when buying their new plants.

Local DC business, Bloom, soil enhancer, had a booth promoting several of their products. April Thompson. Senior Director of Bloom educated visitors on the benefits of the EPA certified Class A biosolids soil produced at DC Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

DC’s Bloom Soil Conditioner

Another local producer, Bloom, was present at the show.  Bloom is produced at DC’s Blue Plains wastewater plant which is one of the world’s largest and most advanced wastewater facilities. It is located just off Interstate 295 on the way from Capitol Hill to National Harbor. April Thompson, Senior Director of Bloom, noted that a lot of visitors had stopped by the booth, and it was great to see so much interest in the DC based product.

Bloom is a soil conditioner made from EPA-certified Class A Exceptional Quality biosolids. It takes the wastewater from our homes and turns it into a soil conditioner that is rich in organic matter and slow release nutrients.  A common question is whether the soil enhancer smells like poop.  And the answer is that it is low in odor and has an earthy or musty smell. The product is generally sold in large quantities and used to enhance areas like golf courses, parks, and farms.  In the DC area, the National Cathedral, Andrews Air Force Base golf course, and the Chevy Chase Club and golf course are all happy customers.  The product can be purchased at local garden centers in small bags for home use. The staff of DC Natives, a local nonprofit which helps create gardens featuring native plants uses Bloom in some of their pollinator gardens.

MANTS is an amazing experience and lived up to the strong endorsement that serious gardeners have given it over the years. Its breadth and scope served as a great reminder of all the different kinds of businesses that make up the nursery industry. From behind-the-scenes companies, like Bloom to deep research about the impact of temperature shifts and diseases that threaten plants to the fun and variety of containers and stones, it truly takes a village.

Rindy O’Brien looks forward to the new gardening season. To contact: Rindyobrien@gmail.com