If you’re lucky, you might end up with a life luxurious enough to have weekly seasonal floral arrangements, brought into your home by a dedicated florist who snips blooms at their peak… But if you’re in the other 99 percent (like us), it’s more likely that you pick up flowers from the grocery store every once in a while to treat yourself. Because, if we’re being honest, floral arrangements are really expensive.
While you’d probably rather pore through the online options for expertly-arranged flowers, sometimes it’s not within the time frame or the budget. Your dreams of a home freshly-scented from fluffy peonies notwithstanding, grocery-store bouquets are a great quick fix for a dinner-party host, a friend who’s had a bad day, or a surprise mother-in-law visit. What’s even better? There are plenty of ways to spruce ‘em up.
Enter: Christina Stembel, the founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, who was kind enough to share her best tips for crafting professional-looking arrangements from store-bought blooms. As it turns out, your local Trader Joe’s floral section is actually a great place to grab a bunch of stems—you just need to know what you're looking for, and how to best arrange them.
The good news? It’s seriously easy to spot quality flowers and put them together in a most artful way. Read on for how to do it.
Sure, you might be tempted by the trendy ranunculus, but the first thing to take into consideration is what condition the flowers are in. If they’re fully open, browning on the petals, or their stems are starting to turn mushy, it might be a sign to go with a hardier variety.
Some of Stembel’s favorite long-lasting flowers include carnations, calla lilies, oriental lilies, orchids, spray roses, and regular roses. However, she explains that you can get an indication of how long flowers will last based on their stems. “When in doubt, look for hearty stems,” says Stembel. “Thick, solid-stemmed flowers usually last longer, whereas thin, hollow stems usually expire more quickly.”
Stembel recommends selecting a mix of brightly colored and neutral ones for a balanced bouquet. “Select three different types of flowers in complementary tones or whichever ones are your faves,” she says. “I usually pick one bright color to pair with a couple muted or neutral tones. It’s an easy recipe that’s hard to get wrong.”
In addition to the color, you’ll also want to consider the shape. “You’ll want to pick at least one round-headed flower variety to pair with more linear varieties,” Stembel explains. “For this arrangement, I chose gorgeous blush roses for the round-headed variety and paired them with my new fave, coral carnations (don’t judge too quickly—they’re beautiful, smell great, and last forever!), and peach tulips, which is what we call a linear flower.”
This variety will help create an interesting and well-balanced bouquet.
Here's another pro tip that will take your arrangement to the next level: Mix in greenery like ferns, eucalyptus leaves, or long grasses. “I always start with a mixed green bouquet, which is important to get that wild look,” Stembel says.
Grocery stores typically carry mixed green bouquets, but you can save a few bucks by simply picking them out of your garden: “If you’re fortunate enough to live in a place with lots of vegetation at your disposal, you can also forage from your backyard.”
If your bouquet is going to be a gift, swing by the gift aisle of the grocery store for some wrapping or tissue paper, or for a more rustic look, you can hit up the meat counter! “Go to the gift wrap section of the store and select some pretty tissue paper or even ask for a couple pieces of butcher paper,” says Stembel. Grab some ribbon or twine to tie up your bouquet as well.
Once you have all your supplies, it's time for the fun part! Start by preparing your flowers—you'll want to strip the leaves off the bottom half of each stem. “Simply snip off all the foliage that will fall below the water line once put in a vase,” Stembel explains. “You’ll want to keep the top ones on to help the flowers open, but the leaves that are in the water can grow bacteria on them that will make the flower expire more quickly.”
If you’re putting the flowers straight into a vase, you'll also want to snip off the bottom of each stem. This fresh cut will help them suck up water. You can even go the extra mile by adding a little DIY flower food to the water, with this simple recipe: 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon bleach OR 1 teaspoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon sugar.
Now, it's time to arrange your blooms. If you're making a hand-wrapped bouquet, here are Stembel’s tips on how to make it look professional: “Lay the greenery down diagonally on the paper in a slight fan shape. Next, lay the carnations on top of the greens, about two inches below the top level of the greenery, and—this is key—stagger them all in height so they’re not in a straight line.”
“Do the same with the roses and then the tulips, fanning them all out on top of each other. Tie the stems with a ribbon so they’ll be easier to handle, then cut the stems the same height. Wrap both ends of the paper around them and tie again with a ribbon.”
The same idea holds true if you’re creating an arrangement in a vase. You'll want to cut the flowers to different heights to create a balanced, multi-level design. Put in one stem at a time, and turn your vase as you work to ensure your arrangement looks good from every angle.
Take care to avoid a few missteps that will make your bouquet look amateur. “Not staggering the flowers in height and combining too many bold (primary-ish) colors together are the common mistakes we see,” says Stembel. She also recommends taking the cellophane off, as it’s a giveaway that the flowers are store-bought.
Finally, have fun with your flowers and let your creativity flow. The more you play with store-bought bouquets, the better you’ll get at creating beautiful, budget-friendly designs that will light up your home.