You wanted to do something nice for your girlfriend—maybe even a little corny. And, hey, look, there’s a supermarket with a flower section on your way home from work! Buying flowers sounds easy, until towers of flowers are staring back at you (labeled with scientific names almost nobody actually uses), as you try to remember your significant other’s favorite color and question why these things are so expensive when they’ll be dead in two weeks. When it comes to buying flowers, 99.99 percent of the work is trying. Really, just grabbing the ones that call out to you—or look slightly prettier than the rest and fit your budget—will suffice, most of the time.

But if you’re new to romance or just want to step things up a notch, there are some basic ways to make the flowers you buy mean a little bit more to the person getting them. I know this, by the way, because a friend of mine convinced me to take a floral-arranging class during my last semester in college. Full disclosure: I got a B.

When should I buy her flowers?

Today. Busy? Okay, tomorrow then.

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The more random the timing, the better. Nothing makes a person’s day like a completely unsolicited gesture of love, and it’s hard to top flowers in that department. Do it on a Wednesday, for no reason other than “these are pretty and they made me think of you.” Boom. Bonus points: Throw in some good wine or beer, and the night is yours.

What about birthdays and holidays?

Birthday flowers are fun. I’ve never met a woman who said, “Ugh, my birthday was going great, and then he showed up flowers. Idiot!” So, buy birthday flowers, but know that flowers given for no reason at all are even more special than those scheduled into the calendar.

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Part of the reason that I’m so anti-holiday flowers, by the way, is because “holiday flowers” are most commonly associated with Valentine’s Day roses, which are a total scam. Let me explain.

Unless she really, really wants roses on Valentine’s Day, don’t buy them.

First of all, everyone does it. This is like calling a fade route at the goal line: Everyone can see it coming. Oh, wow, dude just did the same thing as every other dude in America! Meh. For me, personally, these are at the very bottom of the Flower Power Rankings.

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The complete lack of creativity aside, this particular holiday is the worst time to buy flowers—especially roses. It’s simple cost and demand: Demand is super high, and the price goes up with it. Another side effect of that demand, which businesses naturally want to meet, is building up a big enough glut of roses to fill all those orders on one day. You might end up with lower-quality roses (which will die that much faster) than normal.

So unless she’s a real sucker for flowers and you’re doomed to the couch if you don’t buy them, avoid roses on Valentine’s Day. If you can manage, at least buy flowers that aren’t roses.

Wait, what kind of flowers should I buy instead of roses?

Note: What follows is completely my personal opinion on flowers. (My correct opinion.) If any of the flowers I insult turn out to be your lady’s favorite flower, then buy that damn flower! If a certain bouquet looks awesome to you and includes a ton of flowers not on this list, buy that bouquet! Okay? Great. Here goes:

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Chrysanthemums, aka mums, are great if you want color, variety, and heartiness without selling your soul. I have one qualifier: Avoid these if you don’t know the person well, because in some European countries, these are the flower of death. But if you’ve cleared that hurdle, this is a great flower. They really do come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and varieties, and best of all, they’re not carnations. Those yellow and red Chrysanthemums you usually see around Thanksgiving are among my favorite flowers in the world. Here are a few examples.

Like the kick-ass lady in your life, Chrysanthemums can do anything. (Flower Power Ranking: Strong/Buy.)

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Lilies are another great flower you should consider. They come in all sizes and colors, while also having a pretty good reputation for staying alive. A blooming lily, at least to my nose, smells divine. One of my favorite things about lilies is that, with just a bit of care, the buds on the cut flowers will still bloom. So over time, you cut away the dead parts while the buds bloom fresh flowers. Two bouquets for the price of one!

Beautiful and tough as can be. Gotta respect the lily. (Flower Power Ranking: Super Strong/Buy Buy Buy.)

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But lilies have one big qualifier: If you’re bringing these flowers to a house with cats, avoid lilies like the plague, because lilies are super toxic for kitties. On the pet note, here’s a guide to flowers that are bad for cats and dogs. Take a minute to check it on your smartphone before buying that mixed bouquet at Trader Joe’s. You don’t want a romantic gift turning into a pet emergency.

Alstroemerias are delightful. Back in the day, I used to buy bunches of these cheap flowers at Walmart after work, arrange them at home while drinking beers, and marvel as those beauties still lasted at least a week, sometimes two. If that’s not a testament to a flower’s ability to survive anything, than I don’t know what is. They’re kinda tiny, so if you’re going for a big pop with your bouquet, consider these plus some more prominent flowers in a mixed bouquet. But don’t write these guys off, either—especially for a surprise, no-reason-at-all-but-love bouquet. Aren’t they cute?

Don’t underestimate these flowers. Size isn’t everything! (Flower Power Ranking: Solid/Always Consider.)

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Gerbera daisies are finicky and don’t last long, but so damn flashy and cool that I don’t care. Normally, I’m down on flowers that are tough to keep alive, but you cannot look at these flowers and not feel happy. These are joy in flower form. Buy a bunch of these and tie a bow around them, and you’re set for date night. If you want to keep it simple, these are a good way to go. Just in case, here’s a website with some good advice on how to keep these guys alive.

If you don’t get happy looking at these flowers, you have no heart. (Flower Power Ranking: Strong/Buy.)

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Since we don’t have all day, here’s a list of some other common flowers that are good and nice:

  • Hibiscus
  • Begonia
  • Dahlias
  • Daffodils
  • Irises
  • Hyacinth
  • Peony
  • Snapdragon
  • Sweat Pea

What flowers should I avoid?

Carnations are garbage, suitable only for children and bad prom corsages. Let’s get the absolute worst one out of the way first. I know they are cheap, I know they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, I know they last for a long time. You know what else does? A Toyota Corolla. These are the Toyota Corolla of flowers. Practical and utterly devoid of emotion. Nothing says, “Let’s just be friends” like a carnation. Here’s a picture, so you know what not to buy.

Do not buy this flower. Please. You’re better than that. (Flower Power Ranking: Negative one gazillion.)

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Ugh, fine, I guess I have to talk about roses. Roses are fine. They’re fine. They’re just so ... fine. Whatever. Some women just love roses. Personally, I think they’re among the most uncreative flowers you can buy. The only reason I don’t consider them garbage is because rose bushes are wondrous, wild things filled with color. A big, fat, blooming rose bush is how this flower is supposed to be—thorns and all.

(Image via wattersgardencenter.com)

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Now look at these stupid buds.

Image via pichost. (Flower Power Ranking: Roll the eyes/Only buy if you have to.)

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Meh. Meh. Meh. If she’s a rose person, fine. If you haven’t been together long, you can’t go wrong with roses. But there are so many other more beautiful and creative choices you can make.

I’m wary on tulips and sunflowers, mostly because I’ve never had much luck keeping them alive for very long, not matter what I did. I made an exception for Gerbera daisies, because they are truly stunning to me, but I can’t extend the same feelings to tulips and sunflowers, maybe because they’re just been around too long and I’m over them. If she just loves tulips or sunflowers, buy them. Just prepared to tell her in a few days that she doesn’t have a black thumb at all—and then go out and buy her some lilies, mums, or alstroemeria to prove it. I’m including putting a picture of them here, because you damn well know what they look like. (Flower Power Ranking: Ehhhhhhhh/Don’t Buy)

Other flowers you might want to avoid:

  • Calla lilies are very common in wedding bouquets. Look, I’m just saying, they give off a wedding vibe.
  • Ditto for Hydrangeas. Save them for the wedding.
  • Gardenias have a very strong smell and, as a result, can be polarizing. I have friends who love the scents of these flowers, and friends who would rather have their eyes ripped out than smell one more of them.
  • Regular daisies. These are great for kids, but never struck me as grown-woman flower.
  • That orchid in a pot? No. Now is not the time to test our gardening skills.
  • Some of the crazier tropicals arrangements. For the record, I love tropicals. I’m all about seeing some red ginger flower, bamboo, and bird of paradise in a bouquet, because it’s a big world out there filled with crazy plants. But not everybody wants a flower that looks like a cone. These are for down the road, maybe after a year or two, when you know a person’s taste better.

Should I have them delivered to her workplace?

Well, what’s the status of your relationship? The upside of getting flowers delivered to your workplace is everyone wants to know who they are from. And the downside of getting flowers delivered to your workplace is everyone wants to know who they are from. Keep this in mind! If this is a new relationship, this might not be the way you want to go. Also, if she’s not someone who loves talking to her coworkers, consider that, too. You’re basically putting a big spotlight on her desk for the whole day. Some women love that, some women hate it.

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Also consider the commute these flowers will have to go on. I’ve taken flowers home pretty easily by just setting the arrangement on the floor of the shotgun seat in my car and driving a little extra careful. But if she’s in a bus/train/transit situation, carrying those around gets annoying really fast, and some of them will probably get damaged on the way home, and seeing your fresh flowers busted up less than a day later is so depressing.

Personally, I will always vote for you to bring the flowers to someone in person if you can. (Because what’s better than getting that first, super-sweet kiss right afterward?)

Where should I buy them?

Anywhere!

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Okay, if you have time and wanna do a Google search for a good, local florist, then go for it. If you want something more elaborate (say, a really nice birthday bouquet) or want them delivered, a florist is probably the way to go. That said, some larger grocery stores have pretty good floral departments that can handle custom requests, and I’ve heard plenty of stories of people getting beautiful flowers from them. Are a florist’s flowers better than those from a grocery store? I’ve heard people say yes; I’ve heard people say no. Hey, I used to make arrangements with flowers from Walmart. I won’t judge you. But if you think she might, take the time to find a florist.

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The guy hawking flowers in the middle of the street? If you feel the urge to buy those flowers, buy those flowers. Help support a guy trying to make a living in this world. But especially if it’s later in the day, those flowers have been in the heat for a long time, and heat is the enemy of cut flowers. They really, really won’t last long at all. But let’s circle back to that whole “look, it’s Wednesday, and I bought you flowers for no reason” moment. Flowers are only partly about the flower. You can ignore all my advice—literally forget you read this entire post—and still nail it.

One of my favorites memories is a night I spent having dinner with my boyfriend’s mom and dad on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. A guy came by doing the usual sell—roses for the beautiful ladies? For whatever reason, my boyfriend’s dad was in the mood, said sure, and bought one rose for my boyfriend’s mom and one for me. We walked around Lincoln Road the rest of the night, carrying our roses, getting to know each other, and it was divine. Were these high-quality roses? No. Was he overcharged? Probably. Mine died a few days later. But, so what? I loved it.

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Flowers are like any other gift you buy a person you love. If they come from the heart, nothing else matters.


Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.

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Art by Sam Woolley.

Additional images from Getty/Wikipedia.