The gardening season is all but over for most of the landscape plants and flowers. Many avid gardeners who hate to see the growing season go may look for ways to keep it going by taking some of their favorite flowers indoors to keep through the winter until those warm, gardening days come around again. However, many will seek to keep their flowers around during winter months by picking those last vibrant blooms and preserving them by drying.
There are several methods to drying flowers including: air drying, pressing, using desiccants, microwave drying, freeze-drying, and preserving foliage with glycerin. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss using air drying, pressing and microwave drying.
First you need to collect plant material you wish to preserve. Some things to consider are looking for materials year-round and not just at the end of the season, look for different shapes, colors and textures, and collect flowers at different stages of growth or bloom.
Air-Drying or Hang-Drying
After collecting your plant material, if air drying or hang drying simply make small bundles using rubber bands and hang them upside down in a warm, dry place – ex: attic, garage, closet. Most all flowers can be dried this way but the ones that are considered to be “everlastings” are best for this method. Some examples of “everlastings” are Globe
Amaranth and Strawflowers.
You will want to cut good quality flowers at their peak or slightly immature stage, remove the foliage and in some cases you will want to remove the stems and replace with wire. Group the flowers into small bunches and tie with a rubber band instead of string so when the stems shrink from the drying process the rubber band will adjust to continue to hold the stems. Hang the bunches upside down in a warm, dry, dark area (closet, attic, garage, utility/furnace room). Make sure there is good air circulation and allow the flower bunches to hang till thoroughly dry, which usually takes about 2-3 weeks. When drying larger blooms such as hydrangeas or peonies; hang blooms individually instead of in bunches.
You will want to avoid plants with fleshy stems and leaves, very thin flower petals or wilted material for this method of preserving your flowers. Wilted plant material will not press out and the flatter the flower, the better they will press (ex: pansy, violets). The
faster the flower blooms dry using this method the better they will retain their color, however, if they dry too fast they can turn brown. Place your flower blooms between layer of absorbent, non-glossy paper material such as newspapers, old telephone books or catalogs. Stack the books or layers of paper and put heavy weighted items on top and place in a warm, dry place. At the end of the first week, place flowers in fresh, dry papers and stack again with weight. Another drying option is to layer flowers between newspapers and place newspapers between pieces of cardboard. Layer until you have all flowers placed then tie or tape them together. Place weight on top and put the stack in a warm, well ventilated place.
Desiccants allow flowers to dry quicker than air-drying and keep their natural shape better than air-drying. You can make a desiccant by mixing equal parts of Borax and cornmeal (white or yellow). Place enough of the mixture in the bottom of a container such as a cardboard box, plastic or glass container to cover the bottom area, then place the bloom upright in the container and slowly pour mixture over the bloom till it is covered. The material is basically used to hold the petals in place while drying and some
have added about 3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt per quart of mix to help petals retain their color while drying.
You can also purchase silica gel at many craft stores to use as a desiccant. The initial cost is more than making your own mixture, however, it can be used over and over for many years. The procedure is the same as with the Borax mixture but the container you use will need to be able to have an airtight lid put on it, if not, the silica gel will absorb moisture from the air and this will take longer for flowers to dry, if they even dry at all.
Microwave Oven Drying
This can be done using a support material such as the silica gel to hold the flowers during heating and drying process. It only takes a few minutes and provides fresher, more colorful flowers than other methods. This method will not work well on flowers with thick petals. After treatment you leave the flowers in the silica gel for 12-24 hours to make sure they are cool and dry and once dry it is best to spray them with hair spray or lacquer to seal them because flowers dried by this method do ten to absorb moisture over time. If you store flowers preserved this way you will want to store in an airtight container.
Preserving flowers from special occasions such as weddings, school dances, funerals, births, etc. has been popular for many years to commemorate those special life events.
Submitted by Lori Bowling, Agent for Horticulture, Boyd County Cooperative Extension Service