Friendly reminder: Mother's Day is May 9. Plan to buy flowers? Make sure you pick a good seller — and that you don't overpay. There are a lot of petal peddlers out there. And according to ratings Checkbook receives from area consumers, many disappoint with delayed deliveries, wilted flowers, broken promises and arrangements much different from those shown online.

Because floral customers often place orders for a product that's delivered sight unseen, it's no surprise that problems occur. Florists must somehow interpret customers' tastes and build a work of art fitting those needs. The best floral shops make this happen with fresh products, prompt delivery and low prices. It pays to shop around. For one dozen long-stem red roses, Checkbook's undercover price shoppers found prices among local florist shops ranging from $15 to $72; for stargazer lilies prices ranged from $3 to $12 per stem.

Through special arrangement with the Star Tribune, you can access Checkbook's ratings of local florists for quality and price free of charge until June 5.

If you want an arrangement delivered, seek exotic or unusual flowers or need advice, your best bet is a retail florist. But if you need an ordinary bouquet, want to arrange the flowers yourself, or would like to save money, you have other options.

•  Supermarkets, warehouse clubs and other mass merchandisers count on big-time foot traffic, selling flowers to shoppers who stop in to buy a few things, but leave with a cartful of other stuff. What you will get ranges from basic to full service.

Supermarkets and big-box stores offer one big plus: price. Checkbook's shoppers found that supermarket prices averaged about 60 % lower than those at traditional florists.

• In the Twin Cities area, you also can buy flowers where many florists do. Market Flowers Service in the North Loop is a wholesaler that's open to the public. It offers incredible variety and tremendous savings: We found its prices were as low as the least expensive retail florists we shopped.

• Good retail florists, meanwhile, can help with any flower-oriented need, plus delivery, wire services and helping with big events like weddings. Their business models and styles range from wire-service-only (with that standard FTD look) to custom shops creating original designs arranged with unusual or exotic flowers in vintage or artistic vases.

Many florists evaluated by Checkbook received high ratings from their surveyed customers, but the ratings for some shops prove that a rose is not a rose. Consumers often lodged complaints about late or missing deliveries; wrong items; poor-quality products; lousy attitudes, and wire-service arrangements with fewer (or lower-quality) flowers than ordered.

• To send flowers to someone outside the area, you have a few choices: ordering directly through a florist in that city; asking a local florist to coordinate things or turning to a national floral network.

Checkbook's take: Work directly with a retail florist — either located here or where the recipient lives — rather than relying on a national outfit. The best florists keep track of their experiences with florists elsewhere and will follow up to make sure your blooms are delivered.

Another good option: Find a good florist in the distant city. By cutting the local store from the transaction, you avoid wire service charges and other fees. You will also communicate directly with the florist who will create the arrangement.

Since using a national service or an order-taking company means customers have little control over the final product, there are many unhappy flower buyers out there. A very common situation: An order-taking service charges a customer too little for an arrangement and sends the order to a participating florist, which rejects it. The service then sends the order to a different florist, and again, after several hours, the job is rejected. Sometimes this continues for days, even weeks. Just as bad, a florist chooses to fill the underpriced order but skimps on flowers. This often happens when an underpriced order is accepted by a disreputable florist willing to take a little money to get rid of old flowers.

No matter whom you hire to arrange your arrangements, pay by credit card. If a florist leaves you unhappy and is unwilling to make things right, you can contest the charge with your credit card company.

Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook magazine and is a nonprofit organization that is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers they evaluate.