Unless you know a lot about petals, you’ll probably depend on a retail florist to help you pick high-quality, reasonably priced ones. (See our Ratings Tables to find high-quality florists that charge reasonable prices.) Although your florist knows what is in season, what is available, and what is fresh, a few general rules will help you make good decisions.

Look at the color, form, and trim of cut flowers. Avoid blooms that are wilted or bruised, have blemishes, or are losing petals. Buds should be fairly tight, a flower’s color should be vivid, and the base of the stem should be firm and neatly cut, free of dirt and slime.
If you are buying from a street vendor, going early in the day makes it less likely that the flowers have been sitting in the sun too long. Also check to make sure the water in the buckets is clear.

If you are ordering an arrangement over the phone, think about how to describe what you want—size and shape, colors, and how you plan to use the arrangement.

If ordering for a large occasion, visit the florist shop. Ask to see examples of its work and for references from customers. Place the order far enough in advance so that the florist can specially order any flowers you request.

Several hints on keeping prices down:

  • Flower prices are a product of supply and demand, so you will pay more for popular blooms. For example, many brides are passionate about peonies, but they’re expensive and in season for only a few weeks. A good florist should be able to advise you on alternatives, like oversized roses or dahlias.
  • Go for the greens. “They add a lot of volume for not a lot of money,” says Washington, D.C., floral designer Holley Simmons. “Ask for ferns, maple leaves, or even hostas to add oomph to your arrangement.”
  • Buying stems and using a vase from home cuts costs.
  • Think seasonally. “Flowers are a commodity market,” says Farrell. “Even peonies can be a good deal if they’re blooming locally.”
  • The simple look of a single flower can be elegant and save you a lot of money (this is a pro move—first carefully consider how your loved one will react).
  • If possible, pick up the flowers yourself, rather than having them delivered.

Looking for more info on choosing flowers? Great websites include the California Cut Flower Commission and the Society of American Florists.