How to make beautiful bouquets for cheap with flowers from Trader Joe’s

April 1, 2024

All photos courtesy of Joe’s Florist on Instagram

Joe’s Florist on Instagram is not actually an official Trader Joe’s florist at all. Rachel, the New York City woman behind the account that has amassed 245,000 followers (plus 37,000 on TikTok), works in the tech industry and makes bouquets as a hobby. “My earlier career was more creative pursuits, but now it’s a more tech-heavy space, so I was looking for something creative to fill that hole,” she said. “It had been a while since I flexed that muscle, so I was intimidated to go back to painting or something like that, so I went to flower arranging.” Rachel relies on flowers from Trader Joe’s because they are among the most affordable; she shows her followers how to combine the low-cost bundles of flowers into beautiful arrangements that look much more expensive than they are. Rachel also offers tips and tricks and answers floral arrangement questions from her commenters.

But, she has zero formal training in floriculture or floral arrangement. “I’m fully self-taught,” she said. “But I have formal training in other art mediums, and I think that helps in understanding color theory and compositions and how texture and size play in. But I realized I break traditional floral arranging rules a lot.”

With spring upon us, we caught up with Rachel to get to know her, get some tips and tricks on how to make affordable bouquets, and bring a little color into the concrete jungle this season.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Why and when did you start your account?

I started posting semi-consistently last summer. I was kind of just at a stressful point in work and needed something creative to do. I was always the person who, if I was going to a birthday or someone’s house, I’d bring them flowers. Trader Joe’s flowers are the cheapest, that’s the real reason I went with theirs. I started posting more regularly and doing reels in October or November and that’s when it started taking off. It felt very quick; in October I had maybe 5,000 followers.

It’s just been so fun to get questions and engagement and see what other people are making.

Would you ever make this your full-time job?

I would love to go full-time, it brings me so much joy. I’m still figuring out what that could look like. This is still a new thing for me so I’m still trying to figure out how people monetize it.

Is your apartment full of bouquets?

I definitely have a bunch. I almost always have one in my bathroom which is fun; it feels like a spa. I give them to neighbors — My neighbors across the hall, their apartment is definitely full of flowers — and sometimes I even bring them on the street and share them with someone who could use a smile.

Once, I gave one to a woman, and she started to cry and said, “There’s no way you’d know this, but my grandmother just died and she loved flowers. I feel like these are from her.”

How often do you go to Trader Joe’s?

I go all the time; the crew members are so, so kind. They save me extra buckets — I use a bunch of the buckets they keep flowers in at home. After I do flower prep, it’s good to let them rehydrate so I leave them in there. One person will DM me when they get a new flower shipment. They make it really fun.

Which Trader Joe’s are the best for flowers in the city?

I usually go to the ones on the Upper West Side because that’s where I live, or the one in Soho. The one in Soho is pretty empty (people-wise) and well-stocked. They’re all pretty good.

The biggest tip is to go early in the morning when they open because even if they restock the buckets throughout the day, there is a limit on how many of certain types of flowers ordered so they will be out by the end of the day.

If you want to know when a certain flower is coming in, usually they can tell you in the store or you can call and ask. Some stores in the city will even let you call in an order. The one on 72nd Street last time I called, let me. If you have an event it makes it much easier. You can’t choose the colors, though.

You also use Trader Joe’s bags to wrap the flowers in.

I think the first time I did it I was going to a friend’s and wanted it to look nice and wasn’t home to get anything. It’s affordable and I think it looks just as fun as the brown craft bags. (Learn how she does it here.)

Other favorite places in NYC for flowers?

Whole Foods has a nice selection. The bodegas are really hit or miss; some are awesome, some are not — it’s like the equivalent of finding your favorite fruit cart guy — they are a little more expensive. The flower district is a lot of fun. You can find really cool beautiful things, but it is more expensive. Sometimes I’ll just walk in the area and get inspired. There are really beautiful flower shops in my neighborhood like PlantShed; it’s not always in my budget, but once in a while if I’m doing something really fancy I’ll go there.

Tips for buying flowers on a budget?

  • Go to a store where it’s more affordable — like Trader Joe’s — is my biggest tip.
  • Be willing to get creative. Some flowers get a bad reputation like carnations; I think they are beautiful, especially if you pair them with something like a ranunculus – kind of like high/low.
  • Greens and fillers are often a similar price to flowers; I’d rather have a smaller, flower-heavy arrangement than stuffing it with greens.

Tips for keeping flowers alive in your apartment?

  • Change the water and trim the stems every other day if you can.
  • Use flower food; you can use the packet it came with or make your own with a little bleach and sugar. Don’t put the whole pack in at once; use a little each time you change the water.
  • Start with a clean vase.
  • Use pruners to cut flower stems; when you use scissors, it crushes them a bit and makes it harder for them to absorb water.
  • Put them in a cooler spot outside of the sun.
  • When I change water, I pull out the ones that are dying a little.
  • Some flowers just have longer vase lives than others, so if you want it to last choose things like carnations, mums, gerbera daisies, and lilies.

So, are you a flower expert by now?

I tend to go deep when I have a hobby. I am surprised by the things I’ve picked up from research and reading — people ask questions so I look into it. From playing with flowers all the time, you pick up on stuff like which ones like cold water, and which like warm? Does plant food really work? (Yes, it does.)

What are your favorite flowers for this time of year?

I’ve been loving ranunculus lately; my local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have had them a lot. Hyacinth has been really pretty and they smell really good; they don’t last that long but I’ve been enjoying those.

What makes flowers important to you as a New Yorker?

I joke that it’s like my garden because I don’t even have a window box. I have a lot of plants also, but there’s something about flowers that brings in that little bit of nature. Using my hands and touching something in nature is not quite as good as going to the park, but it’s pretty close.

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