Whether or not you have time to smell the flowers, it's often worth making an effort to give them. Flowers convey thoughtfulness and a personal touch. Yes, they are fleeting, but it is their ephemeral nature that gives them a luxurious and indulgent allure. And they are longer lasting than other benevolent gestures in the business world--like taking someone out to lunch.

No matter what the business occasion, there are some basics to keep in mind when buying flowers. First, steer clear of romantic overtones by avoiding red carnations, red roses, and long-stemmed roses of any color. If in doubt, play it safe with a mixed bouquet. Always include a vase so that the recipient doesn't have to scramble for one. And it's okay to send flowers to men. Many florists can adapt bouquets for guys by using darker, richer-toned blooms and pairing them with more masculine containers and foliage. (If you don't buy that, potted plants are usually gender neutral.)

It's also important that you select blooms that strike the right mood for the occasion. Read on for a situation-by-situation guide to giving flowers at the office.

Get Well

When employees become seriously ill or injured, a bouquet can be a reminder that they're not forgotten as they recuperate. Have the arrangement delivered to a home address because some hospitals have rules against fresh flowers.

Best picks: "You can't get more uplifting than sunflowers," says Ian Prosser, owner of Botanica in Tampa. Arrangements should be big and bright and, most important, easy to care for. Gerbera daisies and hyacinths also make cheery choices.

Apology

If you've messed up, don't send a big, conspicuous arrangement. "An over-the-top bouquet can look like you're trying to bribe someone," says Peggy Post, co-author of Etiquette Advantage in Business. Stick with the understated and pared down, avoiding bright colors. Always include a handwritten card.

Best picks: Though orchids are a safe bet for just about any occasion, they are ideal for an apology arrangement. Elegant, simple, and relatively neutral, they're expensive-looking flowers but are more muted than a similarly priced mixed bouquet.

Client Thank-You

When it comes to wooing a client or expressing gratitude, think less to impress. "You're going to get the wow factor with the quality of blooms, not the quantity," says Prosser.

Best picks: Instead of a large, flashy arrangement, try a careful selection of a few exotic or harder-to-find blooms such as frilled tulips, peonies, or dendrobium orchids.

Birthday

Birthday bouquets should be big and showy, and sent directly to the person's desk. "The whole point is to have people notice and stop to fuss over someone's special day," says Julie Mulligan, floral designer for 1-800-Flowers.com (NASDAQ:FLWS). That said, be sure to have a game plan before sending bouquets to employees on their birthdays. While sending one to Melissa in accounting will show her you care, not sending one to her co-worker a few months later can send the opposite message.

Best picks: Big, bright, showy arrangements of just about any flower will work for birthdays. Lilies are a nice choice because they're large and come in attention-grabbing colors like bright yellow and orange.

Sympathy

Whether the mourner is an employee or client, the death of an immediate family member almost always calls for flowers. Be sure to have them delivered to a home address. If sent to the person's desk, flowers may attract unwanted attention at a sensitive time. Always include a handwritten card.

Best picks: Classic white calla lilies tend to be too mournful, given their association with funerals, so opt instead for a bouquet with flowers such as irises, tulips, or freesias in gentle hues like blue, purple, and pale yellow.

Company Milestone

To celebrate hitting a milestone or completing a big project with a co-founder or partner, go for something big and extravagant. The flowers should attract the level of attention that this exciting achievement deserves.

Best picks: An arrangement of one kind of premium flower is too dramatic for other occasions, but in this case it fits the bill. Try a full cluster of cymbidium orchids, irises, or stargazer lilies.

New Baby

Don't worry about finding pink or blue bouquets, since the new parents have more than enough of those already. Just stick with vibrant, warm colors. Many hospitals allow flowers in the maternity ward, but you should check before sending.

Best picks: A mix of seasonal flowers is best. Spring and summer flowers like tulips and hydrangeas are beautiful and are easy to care for. In the fall, dahlias or assorted berries are festive.