If you want an arrangement delivered, seek exotic or unusual flowers, or need lots of advice, your best bet is a retail florist. But if you’re willing to pick up the posies yourself, or want a typical bouquet or to arrange the blooms yourself, you have other options, most of which net big savings.

Street Vendors

You might find flower vendors downtown, near shopping areas, or along major thoroughfares, catering to impulse buyers—hand over some cash and arrive home a hero.

?? 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, but some vendors peddle several-day-old blooms. Some vendors work directly for flower shops (and sell the same stems), but some florists employ street hawkers to sell leftovers. 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.

In addition to speed and convenience, street vendors have another advantage: Our undercover shoppers found their prices averaged about 10 percent lower than those at supermarkets and about 70 percent lower than at florists.

On the downside, however, selection is usually very limited. And, of course, you can’t use a street vendor to provide flowers for a wedding or to deliver something to a friend in a hospital.

Wholesalers

In the Washington area, you can also buy flowers where many florists do. McCallum Sauber Wholesale Florists in Lanham, Middle Atlantic Wholesale Florist in Alexandria, Metro Flower Market in Chantilly, and Potomac Floral Wholesale in Silver Spring are all open to the public. These wholesalers not only offer incredible variety, but also tremendous savings: We found their prices were as low as the least expensive retail florists we shopped.

Supermarkets and Warehouse Clubs

Like street vendors, supermarkets, warehouse clubs, and other mass merchandisers count on big-time foot traffic, selling flowers to shoppers who stop in to buy a few things but leave with a cartful of other stuff.

Supermarket floral departments range from basic to full-service. Most specialize in simple cut flowers, blooming plants (especially around holidays—think yuletide poinsettias or Easter lilies), and green potted plants. Full-service providers offer wire services and flowers for weddings.

Supermarket blooms usually come at low prices. In our shopping, we found their prices averaged about 60 percent lower than those at traditional florists.

There is substantial price variation for the same item among different supermarkets (sometimes even within the same chain). For example, we found supermarket prices ranging from $10 to more than $35 for a dozen red roses.

Garden Centers and Hardware Stores

You might not think of hardware stores for flowers, but many carry a wide variety of potted plants and hanging baskets among the mulch and such.

Florists

Good retail florists can meet almost any flower-oriented need—wire services, plants, other gifts, and custom arrangements for occasions like weddings. They can deliver an arrangement of flowers to your parents for their anniversary or send a get-well bouquet to a sick friend.
Some florists focus on wire-service business and arrangements with a standard “wire-service look”; others offer more customized original designs and exotic or unusual flowers.

National Networks

If you want flowers delivered locally or out of town, you can use national services like FTD, 1-800-Flowers.com, ProFlowers, and Teleflora. Our take: For any delivery, ask a local florist—either here or near where the recipient lives—to coordinate the job, rather than relying on a national outfit.