How To Substitute Flowers For Orders like a Pro

No matter how well you plan and prepare for your upcoming events, unforeseen situations ALWAYS arise, quickly throwing a wrench in your carefully laid plans.  One of the biggest challenges we face as floral designers is that we are never guaranteed the product we want (meaning, we are never guaranteed to get a specific type of flower or in a specific color, size and quality) which may result in added stress or headache, but it doesn’t have to!

We plan, and nature laughs at us, am I right?

With that said, it is so important to have a game plan for when things don’t go your way.  This stuff is SO IMPORTANT and it took me SO LONG to figure out on my own so I figured I’d share and I hope it helps you on your floral journey!


When I book an event with my team, I create something called a floral recipe.  This is one of the steps I take to organize my team, ensure we have enough floral, ensure we have the right floral and ensure we are always on budget!  I make my floral recipes on excel, no need to get too fancy here.  After creating the entire event in my floral recipe, I add it all up to get the total quantities I need to order for my event.  This makes it really easy when a client decides to add a table on last minute or something of that nature, I can quickly add up what I need to add to my totals without stressing at all!

Whether you know flowers well, or you are still learning, it is a good idea to have a backup plan for any blooms that may be difficult to get.  It is a good idea to discuss these with your wholesalers in advance as well, so they know the game plan and so that you can be first in line, should you not be able to get your first choice bloom.


When I design pieces (i.e. when I am writing me recipes) and am choosing my flowers, there are 5 major characteristics that help me make my choice.  All 5 of these factors are just as important as the other in different contexts.

  1. price
    1. Budget, budget, budget, WE MUST STAY ON BUDGET.  This is the least fun of all of the factors, but is one of the most important.  We got into this business to love what we do, but also because we want to make a profit doing what we love, right?  Don’t cheat yourself here!
  2. shape
    1. The shape of the bloom is a huge factor for me.  In order to make a balanced arrangement, you need to be aware of the basic floral shapes to know how substituting them will effect the outcome and overall design.
      1. flat.  What I mean here are the fillers, like the heavily grouped greens or hydrangea, get my drift?
      2. round.  These are usually focal blooms such as roses, ranunculus, etc.
      3. draping vs. stiff.  Does your bloom or green have a nice arc when it hangs?  Is this important?  Does it need to be stiff and hope a specific angle?
      4. linear.  Long and sprawling or reaching like buddlia, veronica, snapdragons, etc.
  3. size & weight
    1. Do you want your bloom to be a focal point or a textural accent? Sometimes you want a small, delicate bloom like an astrantia and sometimes you want a big, impactful focal bloom like a peony.  Sometimes this one can be a curveball.  We can’t always foresee the size that a peony will come in, right?  Sometimes it is the size of a quarter, accenting the arrangement subtly and sometimes it is the size of our heads!  This is where communication with your wholesaler is of the utmost importance!  1 dinner-plate dahlia can take the place of multiple roses.
  4. strength of the bloom
    1. what is the use for your bloom?  Is it going to be in a centerpiece where it will receive water throughout the evening?  If so, this won’t be a huge factor.  Will the use be in a large installation where water sourcing may be minimal to none?  In that case, this is a huge factor and choosing something like a hardy rose or carnation could be the answer.
  5. color
    1. This one is sort of a no-brainer.  I could dive into the topic of color for hours, but in this case, let’s keep it simple.  If you are looking for a rust colored bloom, then you can easily weed out multiple floral types that simply don’t come in that color.


After knowing and understanding the above characteristics, it is easy to ensure that you are choosing a bloom that will fit well into your recipe as a substitution.

Let’s do some examples together.


If I utilized white buddleia in my recipe, it would be a huge bummer if I couldn’t get it, but it is very possible that it will be the case.  Therefore, every time I utilize buddleia in my recipe, I say a little flower-fairy prayer, but I also include a backup plan for my wholesaler.  When doing so, I am looking at why I chose this flower in my recipe.  I do so by going down my 5 criteria list.  I know I need a flower that is in the same rough pricepoint, linear in shape, medium sized (this is more of a textural accent), strength is not important to me in this case, and I need a bloom that is white.  I usually go with white stock as a sub or sometimes I am able to get a beautiful thick blooming foliage plant from my wholesaler.  I may say to my wholesaler, I’d prefer the white blooming branch, but if I cannot get it or if it is more than $x.xx, let’s go with white stock.


I am using a large hybrid ranunculus in a centerpiece and I am told by the grower that I may not be able to get it.  I know the pricepoint has to be similar, hybrid ranunculus tend to be quite pricey, so I know I have wiggle room for the budget.  I know I want a rounded bloom for the shape.  I know I need it to be large enough to be a semi-focal floral within the arrangement if I am paying for an extra large hybrid ranunculus.  Strength won’t be an issue in a centerpiece and I know I need it to be in white.  In this case, I usually choose a white ball dahlia.  (side note: if it had been a regular ranunculus and I was not splurging for a larger bloom, I may sub with a white scabiosa flower or something else that is in a lower pricepoint range).

I TRULY hope you found this helpful!  We are all in this crazy world of flowers and events together and I am here to help!  Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have specific questions because I am sure if you have the question, others do too!




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