Mother’s Day Flower and Delivery Disruptions Mean You Should Order Bouquets Yesterday

Like everything else, Covid-19 is throwing a wrench in the floral industry.

Popular delivery service UrbanStems says they're already selling out. Photograph courtesy of UrbanStems.

Covid-19 has disrupted the floral industry much like everything else—meaning things look different for Mother’s Day bouquet deliveries this year. The good news: as of now, you still have time to order lovely blooms for mom, and there are plenty of local florists and famers to support. The not-so-good news: certain varieties of flowers and plants may be difficult to come by, and popular delivery services like UrbanStems say they’re already selling out (in other words, don’t procrastinate).

Potomac Floral Wholesale, a massive botanic warehouse in Silver Spring that distributes over 2,400 varieties of flowers and plants from around the world to florists in the Mid-Atlantic region, briefly closed when the health crisis hit to safely reconfigure staffing and workflow. Meanwhile, florists in the DC-area faced new, uneven regulations—some, like Potomac Floral, are considered essential agricultural businesses, while others, like floral stylists in the District and Maryland, are considered non-essential and can open for delivery or pick-up only. Abby Chapple, brand manager at Potomac Floral, says the wholesaler is currently operating with 20 to 25 employees versus the usual 130-plus, and has experienced a drop in business as events dried up and some floral shops closed. Still, she says there are high hopes for a Mother’s Day boost.

“Not only do we have retail flower shops that cater to Mother’s Day in the first place. We’re now seeing wedding and event florists get into that game. Everyone is hoping there’s enough work to go around,” says Chapple.

As wedding business evaporated, many event florists jumped into the home delivery game. Some, like Holly Chapple of Hope Flower Farm, are teaming up with other wedding vendors for add-on gifts like cake and wine. But one thing you might not find with your order: the exact arrangement you want.

“When flowers come in from around the world, they’re coming in the cargo hold of jetliners carrying people,” says Chapple. “Since people aren’t flying we’re having some abnormal access to product, particularly European product. Also the minimums are different. We have a Canadian supplier that can’t justify making a trip unless it’s a certain amount of money.”

On the plus side—especially for those who want to support local businesses and farmers—there are plenty of spring blossoms to go around. Holley Simmons, owner of She Loves Me flower shop in Petworth, is packing locally sourced bouquets with peonies, ranunculus, and anemones accompanied by hand-written notes. (Another perk: a portion of proceeds from her Mother’s Day bouquets benefit foster care non-profit CASA DC.) She says she isn’t worried about holiday shortages. A sudden influx in delivery business has helped her year-and-a-half-old business stay afloat as wedding and event business evaporated.

“Pre-Covid we would have two to three deliveries a week, to the point where I was just asking random Uber drivers to drop off flowers,” says Simmons. “Post-Covid, we’re averaging 200 deliveries a week. We see a lot of ‘hang in there,’ ‘things are going to get better,’ ‘here’s some beauty for your time at home,’” and a lot of condolences. It’s the story of life.”

As delivery demand increased amid workflow disruptions, companies are urging customers to order as far in advance as possible—and be flexible with bouquets. UrbanStems, an online DC delivery startup that’s gone nationwide, cancelled its popular same-day delivery services here and in New York in March, and moved the bulk of its greenery to a warehouse in Hyattsville to fulfill orders with next-day shipping partners. A spokesperson for the company says they’ve also refocused their supply chain on local farmers.

And if you want to support a local business?

“Call a flower shop,” says Chappel. “There are a lot of gathering services like 1-800-Flowers. Those businesses are middlemen. You don’t want to Google search and go for the ones with the ‘ad’ next to them. You want a flower shop that you can call and speak with someone.”

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.