Spring Flowers for Less: 5 Steps to the Perfect Arrangement

Libby Kane

The New York City flower district opens at 4:30 a.m.

So, by the time the LearnVest team arrived at 8 a.m. for our tour, activity was already slowing.

We clutched our early-morning cups of coffee and stepped carefully through cheerful swaths of tulips lining the sidewalks. We were on a mission: learn to arrange flowers.

Ainslie, our current SVP of Product and Marketing, and a former florist, offered to take LV staffers on a tour of New York’s flower district and provide a tutorial on how to make gorgeous arrangements ourselves. Lured by the idea of being able to craft perfect creations out of everyday flowers—no florist required—we seized the opportunity. 

Flowers tend to be extremely expensive. Buying an arrangement at a florist can easily cost $80, and even a decent premade bouquet from the grocery store costs at least $20. And then that pricey arrangement usually lasts only a few days—unless you know how to extend a flower’s shelf life. Hint: We do now!

On this trip, each of us paid an average of about $17 for incredibly professional-looking arrangements that lasted at least a full week.

How’d we do it, you ask?  Our video below—in which Ainslie reveals her methods—will show you how, step by step.

Why Flowers Are So Expensive

When you buy flowers from the florist, you’re also contributing to the florist’s rent, the salaries of her employees and the cost of shipping those cheery daffodils from the Netherlands.

“The flower that costs 25 cents from the grower costs $5 by the time it’s available to you,” Ainslie explains. Your flower has been through the grower, the importer, the wholesaler and the retailer. The flowers get marked up about 15% simply between the wholesaler and the retailers–so if you don’t have access to a “flower district” in your town, you could buy inexpensive bouquets from the supermarket with only one type of flower apiece, pick them apart and follow our tips to make those inexpensive bouquets appear professionally arranged.

How to Make Your Flowers Last

To add insult to injury (the injury being the $30 you handed over for a springtime bouquet), flowers rarely hold up for even a week. The culprit, Ainslie explains, is dirty water. “Bacteria in the water clogs up the stems and kills the flowers.” To keep your water clean, she has two cardinal rules:

  1. Don’t allow any leaves below the water line—they create bacteria. Strip off any leaves that will get wet in your vase.
  2. Change the water every two days. To be sure your flowers are getting the cleanest water, cut 1/4 inch off of the stems every few times they get new water.

Choose the Smartest Flowers

When shopping for a bouquet, bring home the tightest flowers, which will bloom once they’re in the vase and live out their lifespan with you instead of at the bodega. These are some of the best, long-lasting flowers:

  • Carnations
  • Irises
  • Snap dragons
  • Acanthus
  • Wax flowers

If you like tulips, know this: They continue growing in the vase, so they need lots of water.

If you like lilies and hydrangea, know this: These tend to sit too long at a bodega or grocery store. Instead, try antique hydrangea, a paler, larger flower that dries attractively and can stay in your home for up to five months.

Make Your Own Arrangement

Once we carried our flowers back to the office, we spread out for a BYOV—bring your own vase—lesson in flower arranging like a pro.

Expert tip for making your flowers look more expensive than they are? Use greens (lemon leaf is a common choice) and a mixture of textures ( the berry St. John’s wort is popular). A dense arrangement looks more expensive and more visually pleasing.

The tighter and shorter your arrangement, the denser your bouquet will appear. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but the lowest flowers should just clear the mouth of the vase.

But you don’t need a flower district to make bouquet magic. Watch Ainslie’s steps for turning your local flowers into the perfect arrangement:

By the beginning of the workday, we had arranged our own, professional-looking bouquets at a fraction of the price we might have paid a florist. Thanks, Ainslie!

For more fun flower pictures, check out our slide show.


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    Libby Kane