Valentine's Day is right around the corner. Here are some tips on how to get beautiful blooms for less green:

Do the legwork. You’ll save by picking up flowers yourself and delivering them to your beloved—and make sure the bouquet gets there on time.

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Need it delivered? Tread carefully. We find that a lot of customers of national order-taking services have thorny experiences—disappointing products, canceled or too-late deliveries—especially during this busy season. Find a florist located near your loved one and work directly with it to arrange and deliver your purchase. Doing so means you avoid dealing with a middleman and the potential problems often presented by brokers.

Consider buying at supermarkets and warehouse clubs. When Checkbook’s undercover shoppers sought pricing from florists, grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and other sources of stems, we found that prices at supermarkets averaged about 60 percent lower than those at traditional florists. We also found substantial price variation among different supermarket chains: For example, we found prices for a dozen red roses ranged from $10 to more than $35 among stores we shopped.

Think outside the bouquet. Garden centers and hardware stores might not be top of mind for flowers, but many carry a wide variety of potted plants (orchids are a favorite of mine) and hanging baskets, which will last a lot longer than cut flowers.

Take it to the streets. You might find flower vendors downtown, near shopping areas, or along major thoroughfares, catering to impulse buyers. Our undercover shoppers found their prices averaged about 10 percent lower than those at supermarkets and about 70 percent lower than florists’. Street flower quality varies depending upon when and where the seller got them and how well they cared for them. Many street sellers get their flowers from the same wholesalers that supply florist shops. Some are dispatched from retail florists to sell leftover products, so watch out for vendors peddling old blooms. Be especially careful about buying at the end of the day—even if those lilies were fresh in the morning, chances are they’ve been sitting in the sun for hours and won’t last long in a vase.

Want something original? Go to a pro. While you’ll likely pay more for an arrangement done by a retail florist operation, it’ll offer an opportunity to design and build a unique work of art, rather than a standard bouquet. The best floral operations also tend to have higher buying standards than supermarkets and other large sources of stems, which means flowers might look better and last longer.

Inspect products for signs of quality. Look at the color, form, and trim of cut flowers. Avoid blooms that are wilted, bruised, or are losing petals. Buds should be fairly tight, a flower’s color should be vivid, and the stem should be firm and neatly cut, no dirt or slime.

Consider nontraditional options. Flower prices are a product of supply and demand, so you will pay more for popular blooms. Red roses are the flower of choice for Valentine's Day, and they are often marked up extra for the holiday. A good florist should be able to advise you on alternatives, like tulips or dahlias. And go for the greens; they add a lot of volume for not a lot of money—ask for ferns, maple leaves, or even hostas to boost your arrangement. Buying stems and using a vase from home also cuts costs.

Want more info and ratings of local florists? Click here for all our advice on buying flowers and quality and price comparisons.