Fresh flowers are a wonderful gift to receive. But choosing them can be a confusing exercise.
Adding to the confusion, an explosion of fresh flowers has hit the U.S. market in recent years. Flowers arrive by truck and plane from across the globe. For consumers, the bonus is lower prices; the trade-off, uneven quality.
Here’s how and where to find the freshest flowers for the best price, whether you are shopping at a big-box store, a grocery store or florist, whether in town or online.
Spot stale flowers
After their purchase, fresh flowers should stay in peak condition for a week or longer. For fragile blossoms, temperature swings are deadly. Blooms left unrefrigerated (32-40 degrees F. is ideal, according to this article reprinted from Florists Review magazine) at any point along the journey from the field will mean a shorter life, wasted money and disappointment when the flowers you chose droop, fade or die right away.
Inspect blooms carefully and don’t buy in these circumstances:
- The flowers are unrefrigerated or in water that’s not icy cold.
- There is heavy condensation on the blooms or wrapper.
- The flowers show spots of grey mold.
- The blossoms are mostly open. Few of the buds should be open, and most should be mature buds just about to bloom.
- The flowers’ foliage is slightly yellow or brown, instead of bright green.
- Buds or petals fall easily from the stems.
Here’s how to get the most for your money:
- Buy less popular blooms: Avoid roses on Valentine’s Day, for example. Choose unusual, less costly flowers.
- Skip arrangements and vases: Even florists and some online retailers will sell you a bouquet of cut flowers with no vase. They are much cheaper and just as nice.
- Use a higher end grocery store: Better stores have floral departments that focus on quality but at lower prices than florists. I recently ordered 20 (closed) white tulips and greenery for a niece in another city at a higher end grocery chain there. The niece’s mom picked them up from the store. Wrapped in handsome paper and tied with ribbon, the elegant bouquet cost $21.56, including tax.
- Do your own pickup and delivery if possible: It’s more fun, anyway, to see the look on the recipient’s face.
- Find coupons and codes when shopping online: Start with Groupon, LivingSocial, and Amazon.com. Check for sales on retailers’ websites. Or, place your order by phone and ask about specials, deals and discounts.
- Push back: When shopping with an online florist, insist on learning the entire price before you begin ordering, even if that means phoning the company to ask. Some online florists withhold the total price until the end of the order, adding shipping or “handling” fees that turn a bargain into a major expenditure.
- Don’t pay shipping fees: Shipping adds enormously to flower delivery. Find free shipping by searching online for “free shipping flowers.” Or get free two-day shipping with a free Shoprunner membership, available through American Express. Also, Shoprunner offers a 30-day free trial. (Membership costs $79 a year).
- Ask a florist for help: A sure way to get the most for your money is to tell the florist your budget at the outset and ask for their help in getting the best bouquet possible. Florists usually love the challenge of creating a beautiful bouquet, even on a budget.
- Beware scammers: When searching online for local florists you may run into national ads from scammers posing as local florists. They charge hefty fees and might or might not place your order with the florist. It’s best to be sure you have the website or phone number for the legitimate florist before sharing payment information.
Where to find best prices
With flowers for sale from street vendors and corner grocery stores, professional florists, online flower sites and lots of points in between — even Overstock.com sells fresh flowers — its hard to know where to shop. Here’s a rundown of several sources:
Big-box stores: A survey by the nonprofit Consumers’ Checkbook found that supermarkets, big-box retailers and warehouse chains like Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, and Produce Junction sell fresh flowers for about 36 percent lower prices, on average, than florists. They do it by cutting out some of the middle-men in the supply chain.
However, selection is limited and it’s difficult to check on quality. You can ask, though, if the flowers you are buying have been refrigerated consistently since they were picked.
Grocery stores: Grocery store flowers tend to be a slightly more expensive than their big-box competitors but there’s a wide range of prices so shop around. You’ll find especially low prices on fresh flowers in a smaller cost-conscious chain like Trader Joe’s. Selection is limited, though, and, as always, inspect flowers closely for freshness.
Street vendors: You might be tempted to buy a cheap bouquet from a street-corner vendor. After all, street vendors’ prices are about half of what local florists charge, says Consumers’ Checkbook. But it’s a risky purchase. Unrefrigerated flowers are not likely to hold up well.
Most flowers sold fresh in the United States today have come from far away — Mexico, perhaps, or as far away as New Zealand or Zimbabwe — so they’ve had a long journey filled with potential peril. Flowers sold from an unrefrigerated truck or cart, then, already have at least one strike against them. And vendors often buy cast-offs from wholesalers, meaning that you’re getting flowers that are several days old.