smart spending

Why roses cost more on Valentine's Day

"I have to raise them some," says Zimmerman. But she never raises them to the extent the wholesaler does. She says they sometimes charge seven times their normal price leading up to the holiday.

The economy factors in

"When the economy collapsed, a number of growers, both domestically and internationally, went out of business," says Pat Mullen, a buyer for Mayesh Wholesale Florist Inc. in Los Angeles.

That left fewer farms with the capital to grow roses correctly, Mullen says. Growers need loans to stay in business, and banks aren't lending them much money. They view horticulture as a risky venture.

Buyers in some countries pay more for roses than the U.S., including those in Europe, Russia and Japan, so growers sell to other countries. That decreases the supply available to U.S. buyers and boosts the price here.

"We don't pass along every cost increase we experience, and our retail customers most likely don't pass all their costs," Mullen says. "It's more important for us to still be in business after the holiday."

Paying for an expert

You can pay lower prices for red roses at big warehouse stores like Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club or your local grocery store because they buy in bulk, says Pohly.

"What we offer that those places don't is more uniqueness and personalized service. I suggest flowers other than roses that more closely match the personality of the recipient," Pohly says.

Whether you choose roses or other blooms, florists charge more than the big warehouse stores, but they also offer more. Florists extend the life of the roses they process by removing the bottom leaves, cutting the stems at an angle, adding preservative and placing them in warm water to increase the size of the blooms. Then, they create a carefully crafted artistic arrangement.

Alternatives to the rose

Kim Foren, owner of Geranium Lake Flowers in Portland, Ore., frequently finds consumers don't want to pay high prices for roses. She helps them figure out how to arrange a less costly bouquet.

Foren suggests including lower-priced flowers such as tulips, daffodils, freesia and Gerbera daisies.

For a lush look, she recommends using only one type of flower, such as all red tulips. For a loved one who appreciates a minimal design, she suggests three lilies and black rocks or even a single flower.

"It works. It's simple and not overwhelming," Foren says. "Men often try to overwhelm women with flowers."

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