How to find the best deal on Mother's Day flowers

Flower buying tips for Mother's DayIn 2008, $35.6 billion worth of floral items were purchased in the U.S., and I'm betting Mother's Day was one of the leading occasions. If you're thinking flowers as one of this year's Mothers' Day gift ideas, we have a few tips to pass along to help you get your money's worth.

Where can you get the best price?

I ran the numbers for a dozen long-stemmed red roses delivered to my Midwest home from three online flower vendors. The online version of FTD, which wouldn't divulge its "service fee" until I'd almost completed an order, charges $49.99 without a vase, with a service fee that goes up from $14.99 on the Thursday before to $17.99 on Friday and $29.99 on Saturday. These flowers are delivered by UPS or FedEx.
1-800-Flowers charges $59.99 for a dozen "Rose Elegance Premium Long Stem Red Roses" in a vase, with a $14.99 service charge. Its flowers are delivered by a florist. Teleflora also charges $59.95 for 12 standard red roses in a glass vase, with a $14.99 delivery charge; Saturday delivery is the same price as other days of the week.

Apparently, the glass vase costs $10. I can buy one for 50 cents at Goodwill.

I then called my local florist, Market Blooms in Columbus, who told me they would supply a dozen roses in a vase delivered on the Thursday before Mother's Day for $50 plus $8 delivery and sales tax.

My conclusion? Shopping local florists makes a lot more sense -- in this case, about $17 worth. Call early and be sure to ask if there is a difference in delivery cost on Thursday vs. Friday vs. Saturday.

What do you look for when shopping for flowers?

One vendor classes flowers this way:
Flower -- size, tightness, state of opening, free of insects and disease.
Leaves -- Good color (not pale), well formed, no young tips that wilt, free of insects and disease.
Stems -- Straight, resistant to bending, free of insects and disease.

The larger, tighter, open roses with green well-formed leaves and long, straight firm stems are going to be worth more.

I asked Jennifer Sparks, the vice president of marketing for the Society of American Florists, how can a shopper determine if the flowers he/she is considering buying are fresh? She replied, via e-mail:
It's a little like buying produce -- trust your eye. Look for stems and petals that look vibrant and fresh, versus slightly wilted or tired looking. For roses, check the heads with a slight squeeze for a firm bud. If it is mushy, it is further along in its life. Also, check around to see how the flowers are being kept -- are they in a cooler or cool area in containers with clean water? It is best to buy from a florist or establishment that knows how to properly care for flowers and offers a satisfaction guarantee.
I also asked Sparks -- what's the deal with those people who sell flowers at freeway exits?
Usually they set up "shop" the day before or of a major holiday. They do not pay taxes to help the local economy like established local businesses. While the price may seem like a good value, they have often bought the flowers at a discount because they are past their prime, and are not properly cared for and sit in the sun all day which is not good for the flowers. Because of this, those flowers will likely have a very short shelf life and, because the vendor will likely be gone the next day, if consumers have a problem with the flowers, they have no recourse.
And I had to ask her --what is the effect of the Icelandic volcano on flowers this spring? I was thinking perhaps the tulips from Holland would be damaged. Sparks replied:
The impact really came from planes being grounded for a week so product couldn't get in and out. But there is so much breadth, depth and resourcefulness to the floral industry that other than some logistical challenges, consumers' needs were able to be met during that time. There are an incredible amount of alternative sources, as tulips and many other flowers are available from South America, Canada, California, Washington and other states.
For those of you concerned about flowers and the environment --
Those flowers in your arrangement may well have traveled a long way before gracing your table. Sixty-seven percent of flowers sold here are domestic, with 77% of those coming from California., and 61% of the remaining third come from Columbia. Its neighbor Ecuador supplies another 17%. According to one study, for those imported flowers "air transportation alone creates 3.1 pounds of carbon per bouquet." Ouch.

I asked Sparks what Mother's Day flower selections would come at the least environmental cost? She replied:
Domestic flower growers and the major ones who import their product into the U.S. are environmentally and socially responsible. It makes good business sense. To be able to provide the consumer with great selection and quality, flowers do come from across the country and the world. If you are looking for flowers that are locally grown, ask your florist what options are available for that time.
If you really want to be environmentally friendly, though, stop by my house for a bouquet. I'm growing these round yellow flowers right in my lawn, and you can have all you want.

If you're dead set on buying your mom a handsome bouquet, though, your local florist is probably the place where you'll find the best combination of price and quality. If you choose to buy at a grocery store or other bulk retailer, keep in mind the tips above on what to look for, so you can choose a display that will last long enough to give your mom a chance to brag on it.

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