Valentine's Day gifts: How to save money on roses

This Valentine's Day, consumers will spend an estimated $1.8 billion on flowers, mostly roses. But high demand combined with an off-peak growing season can make Valentine's Day roses quite pricey. Here's how to save.

By , Correspondent

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    A worker prepares roses at Elite greenhouse in Facatativá, Colombia, in this file photo from last week. Buying roses in a color other than red, like the orange shown here, is a good way to save this Valentine's Day.
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In yet another sign that the economy may be on the rebound, shoppers are planning to shell out big bucks this Valentine’s Day, to the tune of $17.6 billion, according to one estimate.

The average consumer will spend $126  to celebrate their loved ones, up from $116 last year, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, a Washington trade group. That’s an 8.5 percent increase over 2011, and the highest spending level in the 10 years since the NRF began keeping track.

Of the $17.6 billion to be injected into the economy for love’s big day, $1.8 billion of it will be spent on flowers (the only higher spending categories are jewelry, at $4.1 billion, and evenings out, at $3.5 billion. Surprisingly, Valentine’s Day is only the third-highest ranked holiday in terms of flower purchases, behind Christmas (when people tend to buy flowers both as gifts and for decorative purposes) and Mother’s Day.

Recommended: 10 romantic movies for Valentine's Day

But as far as fresh-cut flowers go, Valentine’s Day is tops. The most popular flower, obviously, is the rose – all told, roses make up 71 percent of Valentine’s Day flower purchases (red roses account for 42 percent; other colors, 29 percent, according to the Society of American Florists or SAF). All other flowers – tulips, carnations, peonies, daisies, and the like – make up a measly 29 percent. In 2010, 196 million roses were produced specifically for Valentine’s Day, according to a report from Statistics Canada.

The rose is "the ultimate gift in today's market," says Michael Skaff, lead designer for FTD, an Internet and telephone marketer of flowers and gifts based in Downers Grove, Ill. "I just think that everyone understands that roses are the symbol of romance, and consumers feel like they're a high-value product."

He notes that roses didn't become the unofficial flower of Valentine's Day until midcentury, when the flower industry started to move toward importing, and away from flowers locally grown in greenhouses. Before then, delicate blooms like violets and sweet peas were prevalent on Valentine's Day. Roses, and to a lesser extent, calla lilies and orchids, came to dominate the market because of their sturdiness during transport and the development of a wide variety of plants. "Even within one color family, like red, there's a ton of variety,"  Mr. Skaff says. "From deep burgundy to a bright neon, you have the entire spectrum of red."

Unfortunately, the high  demand for roses combines with a slew of other factors to make the flowers prohibitively expensive on Valentine’s Day.  For one, February’s short daylight hours and cold temperatures don’t make it an ideal month for rose-growing. Roses thrive when planted in late fall or early spring, and don’t tend to bloom during the winter months. Thus, virtually all roses grown for Valentine's Day are imported from warmer climates, in countries like Colombia and Ecuador. Additionally, commercial rose farmers are usually wiped out after Christmas, and only have 50 days or so to produce a Valentine’s Day crop. 

Furthermore, the red roses given on Valentine’s Day are generally long-stemmed roses. Roses grow on a bush, so creating one long-stemmed rose means trimming the bulk of a bush, sacrificing up to 50 rosebuds, according to SAF's informational website, aboutflowers.com.

As a result, Valentine’s Day roses tend to be nearly three times as expensive as they would be at other times of the year. At Winston Flowers, a top-rated local florist in Boston, one dozen roses in a vase will set you back $125; if you buy online from FTD, it will cost you $79.99, plus shipping.

Happily, there are ways to buy roses, or any flower, for your loved one without breaking the bank. The economy isn’t completely out of the woods, after all. Here are our tips:

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