Central Florida plant nursery fulfills a half million online orders in time for its 20-year anniversary

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What started in the backyard of a Lakeland, Florida home in 2004 has blossomed into a thriving e-commerce business that rivals major plant sellers. Just in time for its 20-year anniversary, Wellspring Gardens fulfilled its 500,000th online order this June.

The company has experienced unprecedented growth since 2020, and is projecting it will fulfill one million orders, doubling its record, in the next five years.

Donovan K. Baltich started the business after being laid off in 2003. He studied horticulture at Florida Southern College and had always planned on opening a plant store, though he imagined it looking quite differently.

“As long as I can remember, I wanted to open a brick and mortar plant store,” he said. “But with the rise of e-commerce and changing circumstances, new opportunities presented themselves, so we jumped in with both feet.”

Baltich and his wife, Dana, ran the company through ups and downs in the market — all from their back porch. Defiantly avoiding debt and ownership dilution meant they would remain working in their backyard until 2019 when they acquired a dedicated fulfillment center.

When the specialty live plant market boomed in 2020, the company held its ground amidst numerous competitors entering the space. “We saw a resurgence of interest in self sufficiency,” Baltich said. “Customers have shared images of the food forests they’ve grown from our baby plants and it’s really amazing how a family can transform their yard in just a couple years.”

Cheyenne Parsons, of Ocala Florida, is a loyal Wellspring Gardens customer who understands the benefits of growing your own food beyond cost savings. “I want to ensure my family has healthier and fresher food available, and by growing my own garden I get to choose what goes into my yard and my soil,” Parsons said. “Our garden is full of fruit thanks to Wellspring Gardens. One of our favorite purchases was a Dwarf Everbearing black mulberry tree that produces so much that we’re able to make preserves, pies, sauces, kombucha, frozen berries and so much more.”

Of the plants Wellspring Gardens offers, most of them are tropical and many of them are edible. Staples include familiar names like Orange Bird of Paradise and Ice Cream (Blue Java) banana and rarer varieties include Mexican Pepperleaf and Edgar’s Baby dragon fruit.

All plants are sold as starter plants in 5-ounce pots and measure just 3–8 inches tall. The company affectionately refers to them as “baby plants.” Though some customers seek out fully grown, mature plants, Wellspring Gardens has found that its customers actually prefer receiving smaller plants because they form a connection as they raise them to maturity.

Today the Baltich children — Kirsten Maghraoui and Donovan C. Baltich — manage the business, which employs 12 associates. The company credits its success to a commitment to staying lean. “It’s not common to have company founders working in the business 15 years in, but they wanted to stay lean,” Donovan C. Baltich said. “Since 2020, we’ve systemized our fulfillment operations and growing practices to enable fewer people to achieve more.”

What’s next for the 20-year company: An innovative “plantscription” in which customers receive three new plants each quarter for a flat price. “We follow the philosophy of ABL: Always Be Launching,” Donovan C. Baltich said. “There are already plant subscriptions out there, but we’ve seen room to innovate in that space. We would like to redefine the category.”

The largely internet-based company previously participated in various curb markets in the Lakeland area in its early days. For the first time in many years, it plans to revive its physical presence with pop-up shops at various locations including the Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market starting in September 2024.

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