Today, if you haven't already, you and I and several million Americans will be shopping for flowers for Valentine's Day. In my case, I have the added incentive that my wife's birthday is Feb. 14.

Anyway, there are a number of things to consider when shopping for flowers and several steps you can take to keep them fresh.Roses and carnations aren't the only types of flowers people purchase for Valentine's Day, but they're among the most popular. Check their freshness by gently squeezing the buds. They should be firm.

If you're buying roses, select flowers whose outer petals have just begun to unfurl. The buds that are open may look great immediately but they won't last as long. Buds that are too tight might not open at all.

Just before putting roses into water, cut the stems about an inch from the bottom. That will allow the tissues in the stem to suck up water quickly. If possible, cut the stems on a long slant so that all of the cut area will be in water.

The water you choose to place them in should be clear and slightly warm - not hot. Warm water moves up through the stems quicker than cold water. If you change the water daily and cut the stems each time, the roses will last many times longer. At least change the water every two days.

If you receive roses in a place where you can't immediately cut and put them in water, store them in a cool area away from light. If you have a refrigerator, that would be a perfect choice.

When you display your roses, don't put them in direct sunlight or other places where they will dry out. Avoid areas near heating air ducts, the kitchen range or on top of your television set, which also can get warm when used.

To prevent water damage to furniture or something else you value, place a sheet of plastic - a folded kitchen trash bag is perfect - between two layers of light cloth, and set your vase on top. Make sure the layers of cloth and plastic still afford a firm place on which to set the vase.

Use a floral preservative. It can be purchased at most floral shops and many nurseries.