Preserve Flowers All Summer to Keep Everlasting Color All Winter

Pat Simpson
Adams County Master Gardener

If you are a gardener who enjoys crafting with dried flowers, think about planting a drying garden. It is an inexpensive way to stock up on dried flowers. You don’t have to be an expert gardener, just start out by planting flowers marked "Everlastings" like strawflowers, yarrow, statice and ammobium. These are easy to grow and can simply be air dried.

Knowing the best time to pick flowers for drying is a very important part of the process. Late morning or early afternoon after the dew has dried on a sunny, dry day is the optimum time to pick. Avoid picking on humid or damp days. Collect the most perfect specimens, free of insect and disease damage, because any imperfections will become more obvious after drying. Delphiniums, goldenrod, strawflowers, and peonies should be picked before the flowers are fully opened. Pick globe thistle and sea holly when heads and stems are starting to turn blue. Pick celosia, chive flowers, marigolds, roses and salvia when the flowers are just barely opened. Pick globe amaranth, pearly everlasting, tansy, gold yarrow, daisies and feverfew right after the flowers have opened.

Methods of Preserving Flowers

Air Drying: To air dry flowers, simply gather a small bunch of flowers and tie the base of the stems together using a rubber band, florist wire or string. Then hang them upside down on a hanger or hook for 1 to 3 weeks in a dark, warm, dry place such as a closet, attic or spare room. Keep in mind that flowers shrink considerably during the air drying process and the color may darken a little. Lavender, strawflowers, statice, chinese lantern, globe amaranth, celosia and hydrangea as well as the seed heads of nigella, coneflower, butterfly weed, baptisia and black-eyed susans can simply be laid out on screens or put in baskets to air dry. If you want to dry artemesia for wreath bases, use a round container like a bushel basket and just encircle large bunches of the foliage around the inside of the container. Once the material has dried, it will already be shrunk and in a wreath shape and will be much easier to work with. Pick artemesia when the silver beaded heads are full and round but not opened (usually ready by the end of August.) Materials like mint and marjoram can also be dried for wreath bases, but these shatter more easily so it is better to wire these materials into the base while they are still fresh and pliable. Lay the foliage-covered wreath bases flat to dry. Remember to use a lot of fresh material in the wreath base to allow for shrinkage.

Drying Agents: If you want to keep shrinkage to a minimum and retain true flower color and shape, you can try a chemical method of drying. Use a desiccant, a commercial mix known as silica crystals. A package of silica is expensive, but you can use the crystals over and over again by re-drying them on a cookie sheet for several hours in a low temperature oven (follow package directions). You can also make your own drying mixture of 1 part borax to 5 to 10 parts of another material such as dry sand or cornmeal. Put your drying material in a lidded container such as a cookie tin or shoe box and position the flowers on 1/2 to 1 inch of the drying mixture. Use a small artist brush to smooth and straighten out the petals. Gently pour more material on top of the flowers until they are completely covered. Check your flowers every few days until they feel dry and crisp. To speed up drying, you can put your container in a dehydrator or microwave and dry in a day (follow manufacturer’s instructions). This is a good method for zinnias, pansies, lilies, roses and dogwood petals.

A glycerizing method can be used for preserving ivy, branches with berries, and rose hips. Mix 1 part glycerin (found at drugstores) to 2 to 3 parts of boiling water. Gather your material and leave 6" of stem on them. Crush the lower part of each stem with a hammer or cut slices in the stem end. Place the stems in a tall container filled halfway with the glycerin solution and leave them there for 2 to 6 weeks depending on the thickness of the material and how fast they absorb the liquid. Maintain the glycerin solution level by adding a mix of 1 part glycerin to 4 parts water. Hang in a cool, dark place to finish drying before you store them. Note: use this method only during the summer as frosted foliage will not glycerize. You can also submerge a total plant, leaves and all, in a shallow container filled halfway with the glycerin solution until it changes color. Thick and waxy leaves like ivy or magnolia will become soft and pliable.

Pressing: Another method of preserving is by pressing flowers. You can use a flower press with blotting paper or simply put flowers or leaves in between the pages of a heavy telephone book or catalog. Place your flowers on the paper so they are not touching, tighten the press or put a rock on the book and leave it set for several weeks. You may want to write the flower names on sticky notes and insert the notes as bookmarks on your flower pages. Once the flowers are pressed and dried, they will not look the same so you may not recognize them. If you have problems removing the flowers from the paper once they have dried, gently "tease" them off with a small brush. You can permanently store your pressed leaves or flowers in a book or an album.

Store all other dried flowers in a dry, dark place in tissue paper in covered card board boxes until you are ready to use them. You may want to spray them with a non-scented, inexpensive hairspray to help keep the dust and moisture out and prevent them from shattering. Sprinkling a little silica or borax in the bottom of the box will also help keep moisture out.

Use your flowers for crafting arrangements, Christmas decorations, wreaths or potpourri mixes. Do not be afraid to experiment using different drying methods for the same type of flower. Different drying methods result in a different look to the flower. Decide which look you like best. I highly recommend the following beautifully illustrated books which were referenced for this article: Dried Flowers by Hillier/Hilton, Everlasting Design by Penzner/Forsell, Everlastings by Patricia Thorpe, The Art of Pressed Flowers by Sylvia Pepper, and Potpourri by Penny Black..

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