Home Gardening Center Tip Sheet: Drying FlowersBy Sonia Uyterhoeven
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Drying flowers is a wonderful way to preserve the beauty of your garden. For most people dried flowers conjure up images of lavender (Lavandula), strawflowers (Helichrysum), and statice (Limonium). There is, however, a wide range of flowers that can be successfully dried. Below are two techniques for drying flowers.
It is important to remember to collect flowers when they are at their peak. Avoid any excess moisture on your flowers by collecting them late in the morning once the dew has burned off.
The easiest way to dry flowers is air drying. Strip the flowers of their leaves and bundle several stems together. Take a rubber band and slide it over 2 to 3 stems. Then coil the rubber band several times around the entire bundle of stems, sliding it over 2 to 3 more stems towards the end of the bunch. The rubber band will look as if you twisted a wire around the stems. Do not bundle flowers too thickly or tightly otherwise you will create damp spaces that will encourage rot.
Take a paper clip and pull it apart to create an S-shape. Hook one end to the coiled rubber band on your bunch of flowers, and attach the other end to a coat hanger. Hang the coat hanger in a warm dry closet or attic until the flowers are dry. The drying time will depend on the thickness of the flowers’ stems, the humidity, the size of the bundle, and the air temperature (anywhere from three days to three weeks).
You can also dry thick-stemmed flowers by standing them upright in a can or jar. The stems will not be as straight as flowers dried by the hanging method, but this may soften the look of your dried flower arrangement. I do this with hydrangeas.
Foliage is always removed during the air drying process since the leaves tend to curl and look unsightly. An easy way to dry foliage is by laying the leaves flat on an old window screen and placing newspaper on top, so that the leaves do not curl during the drying process.
Air drying works well for smaller flowers, but the process often shrivels large, fragile blooms beyond recognition. Roses (Rosa), peonies (Paeonia), dahlias (Dahlia), sunflowers (Helianthus), lilacs (Syringa), zinnias (Zinnia), hyacinths (Hyacinth), and daffodils (Narcissus) fare much better when they are dried with a desiccant.
Silica gel is one of the easiest and most reliable desiccants to use. Silica gel is actually not a gel: it looks like white sand with blue crystals. Once the gel has reached its saturation point, the crystals turn pink.
You will need to dry these flowers in a plastic container with a lid. Place one inch of silica gel in the empty container. For hyacinths, lilacs, and daffodils you will be drying the entire plant intact. For other flowers separate the flower from the stem, leaving 1/8-1/4 inch of the stem attached. In some cases, for example peonies, you will have to separate the foliage from the stem as well. Place the different plant parts in the container so that they do not touch each other or the edge of the container.
Slowly cover the flowers, stem, and foliage with silica gel using a measuring scoop. If you bury a flower too quickly, you will ruin its shape. If you are drying a larger flower such as a rose, place it either upright or on its side and slowly scoop the silica gel over it in such a fashion that it retains its shape. Cover completely with silica gel.
If your container is deep enough, you can preserve two layers of flowers. Flowers take between 2 to 7 days to dry. Slowly pour off the gel to see if they are ready.
Spray dried flowers with a surface sealer to prevent the flowers from re-hydrating or falling apart. Spray flowers outdoors, and place on a sheet of wax paper until they dry. Reattach the flowers and stems with floral wire and floral tape or a hot glue gun.
Reconstructing the flower can be a complicated process. One simple option is to create a stem out of floral wire and floral tape. Place the floral wire 1/4 inch into the flower and wrap with green floral tape.
Otherwise, the stem and the leaves can be reattached with either floral tape or hot glue. If you have removed the foliage from the stem, cut small segments of floral wire and place them in the stem where the leaves were removed. Do this while the stem is still fresh. Once it has dried, apply hot glue to the wire and position the leaf on the wire. Repeat this process when connecting the flower to the stem. Place the stem in florist foam (Oasis®) when rebuilding the flower, so you do not damage the flower and foliage.
To reuse your silica gel, place in a glass baking dish and heat in the oven at 275° Fahrenheit for one hour. All of these supplies can be found at craft stores.
Silica gel is expensive. A more economical alternative is to use 40% borax and 60% white cornmeal. This recipe takes longer to dry the flowers, so leave them in the container for two weeks.
The old-fashioned way to dry flowers was with sand. Many flowers preserve well when they are buried in fine, dry sand. Some of the best candidates for this method of drying are sturdy flowers such as marigolds (Tagetes) and zinnias.
Pour 2 inches of sand in a cardboard box. If you are drying any flower from the daisy family, set the flowers upside down on the sand and pour approximately 1 inch of sand around the flowers so that the base is covered. Do not let the flowers touch each other.
The stems will dry by being exposed to air. Remember to remove the foliage otherwise it will curl. Place in a warm dry spot and leave for approximately 5 to 10 days. Gently blow off the sand and remove the flowers.
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Generous support for the Home Gardening Center has been provided by Kenneth and Ellen Roman.