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Avoiding floral scams and flowery disappointments
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You should also ask if the florist is part of FTD or Teleflora, recommends Conte.

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"They guarantee everything," says Conte. "If you have a problem with the order, talk to the florist first and if that doesn't work you can always call FTD or Teleflora."

Online olfactory satisfaction
If you're buying flowers online, you're most likely ordering from one of three types of people -- a local florist, a wire service or the grower. Which of the three it is will make a big difference.

The wire service will forward your order to a local florist and may charge you a fee or percentage of the total.

A grower might not have training in professional flower arrangement. While that may seem like a simple task, Sparks says it is an art form -- and an important one at that.

"Presentation is often just as important as the flowers themselves," says Sparks. "If you are ordering from a grower instead of a florist, the flowers are not going to be arranged -- they might come in a vase but they are not arranged. If presentation is important, order through a florist."

Sending scents
Ordering flowers to go to another city? Your local florist can still help. Reputable florists have directories of florists they trust in other cities. Your local florist can take your order and ensure it is filled by a quality florist with a satisfaction guarantee.

Did you say $50 to $90 for flowers?
Yes. A dozen roses in a vase is very pricey -- even without the delivery charge. But if you want to spend less, you have alternatives. Tell your florist your budget and ask for suggestions. Be sure to ask for alternatives in case the flowers you choose are not available.

"A good florist will work with your budget," says Sparks. "Get half a dozen roses or a single stem. And mixed cut flowers come in all different colors, sizes and budgets."

Do women even like flowers that aren't roses? Of course. According to a consumer tracking study compiled by Ipsos Insight, mixed bouquets make up the bulk of flowers sold for Mother's Day, followed by roses with carnations coming in a distant third. Conte recommends a mix of flowers called a French bouquet. "You get a beautiful variety of flowers instead of 12 boring flowers all the same color," he says.

If you must have a dozen roses, shop around for a lower price, but be warned -- a lower price may mean lower quality.

"A rose is not a rose is not a rose," says Sparks. "If you are paying a higher price, usually you are paying for a higher quality of rose -- longer stem, higher petal count and more fragrant."

Conte adds that while it costs more to buy from a reputable florist, the flowers will last longer because they have been properly cared for. Care is important since more than half the cut flowers sold in the United States have to travel all the way from South America.

"These flowers were cut at least 10 days ago," says Conte. "By the time they reach Miami, they're basically dehydrated. We condition them and make them ready so they last longer."

Another option for controlling costs is to pick up the flowers from the florist and deliver them yourself.

Don't be surprised -- have it itemized
Remember that delivery charges may pack a wallop onto the final cost -- so ask for all charges and fees before agreeing to the purchase.

To avoid any other unpleasant surprises, Sparks says you must tell your florist not only what you want but what you don't want. "Florists are experts in a lot of areas, but they are not mind readers," says Sparks.

If you're unhappy with the arrangement, let your florist know.

"If someone has a legitimate complaint -- and we rarely get complaints -- we will make it good," says Conte.

The FTC recommends paying by credit card. If the flowers are never delivered, you can dispute the charges with your credit card company.

Sheyna Steiner contributed to this story.
Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: May 4, 2006
 
 
More stories by Amy C. Fleitas
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