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.

Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters/File
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.

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.

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:

  1. Why go red? The present day rose customer has a slew of options unavailable to buyers just 20 years ago. In the 1990s, the varieties of commercially available roses multiplied from a few dozen to nearly 120 types. As a result, you can get roses in every conceivable color and size. If you’re willing to mix up colors within the bouquet itself, you’ll lower the price even further. In fact, at FTD, you can get a “Sunrise” bouquet of two dozen red, yellow, pink, and orange roses plus a vase for $59.99 – still $20 cheaper than a dozen reds.
  2. Go local and be your own delivery guy: There are a lot of good reasons to visit a local florist instead of a big website. You can see what you’re getting, the flowers are likely to be fresher and, if you pick the flowers up yourself, you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg in shipping and delivery fees.
  3. Get your own vase: You probably have a vase lying around somewhere; if not, you have a jar. Skipping the florists’ vase can save you between $10 and $20, plus it gives you an opportunity to get creative. Anything that can hold water can also hold flowers, be it a teapot, an oversize mug, or a small metal pail.  
  4. Get roses arranged with other flowers: Roses are the most expensive flowers, so anything you can add around them is going to lower the price. Good options include lilies, carnations, and irises, which come in a slew of colors at a low price point. One of Skaff's favorite filler flowers is the "Matsumoto Aster," a bushy, daisy-like flower that comes in a wide array of colors. "It's a moderately priced flower that lasts a really long time," he says. "It's like a daisy, but a little less common."
  5. Make Feb. 15 your Valentine’s Day: Valentine’s Day flower buying is the plan-ahead type’s nightmare – buying roses a month in advance and stashing them in a closet is an option. What you can do, however, is have roses shipped a day later, resulting in much lower delivery fees and great sale prices. It’s like buying Christmas ornaments on December 26.
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