If you can pick up bouquets yourself, supermarkets and street vendors offer tremendous savings. Our undercover shoppers found that prices at supermarkets and warehouse clubs were, on average, 60 percent lower than florists’ prices. Street vendors’ prices were about 10 percent lower than that. Yet another option is to buy at one of the three wholesalers in the Washington area that are open to the general public. Wholesalers not only offer incredible variety, but often tremendous savings.

If you are buying flowers for a wedding or other major occasion, want them delivered, seeking flowers unavailable at supermarkets, or need a custom arrangement, you’ll probably need to use a retail florist. Among florists we found big price differences: For one dozen long-stem red roses, we found prices ranging from $34 to $75, and for stargazer lilies prices ranged from $4 per stem to $12 per stem.

We also found big differences in the level of service provided by shops. For example, for the quality of advice provided some shops were rated “superior” by fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers, while others received such favorable scores from 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers.

While you have several options if you need to have flowers delivered outside the Washington area, we strongly advise you to deal directly with a florist you trust—either one located in the recipient’s area or one located here in the Washington area that will find an out-of-town florist and coordinate the transaction. Several online floral companies will do this coordinating for you, but using a local florist gives you more control over the process.

Many companies that pose online as local florists are really order-taking services; these businesses often deliver big headaches.

When ordering flowers for delivery, pay by credit card. If the florist that screws up is unwilling to make things right, you can contest the charge with your credit card company.