Fresh flowers are a beautiful part of many memorable events, such as weddings, proms, and receptions. One way to preserve the memories of these special occasions is to dry and preserve the flowers. Arrangements can be taken apart, dried, and reassembled. Or perhaps you would like to preserve some of the beauty from your garden to enjoy when six inches of snow lies where the flowers once stood.
Flowers can be preserved by several methods. Some flowers can be dried by simply hanging the stems, upside-down, in a dark, well ventilated area. Flowers that can be air-dried include statice, baby's breath, and globe amaranth, and strawflower ( refer to HHPN, July 26, 1996, page 133, for information on drying "everlasting" flowers ). Many flowers, however, require a drying agent to remove the moisture and preserve the color.
Several materials can be used as drying agents. Drying agents support the flowers while absorbing moisture from the plant tissue.
A popular, inexpensive drying mixture consists of equal parts borax and white cornmeal. The borax-cornmeal mix and flowers can be placed in a shoe box or plastic storage box. During the drying process, the containers should be left uncovered because air is necessary for the drying process. Flowers dried in a borax-cornmeal mix will dry in approximately 2 to 3 weeks.
A fine, clean sand can be substituted for white cornmeal. However, it is relatively heavy and tends to flatten flowers unless used carefully.
Commercial drying agent products are available in hobby and craft stores. These products contain silica gel. Silica gel is lightweight and fast drying. Though expensive, it can be used indefinitely. Flowers being dried in silica gel must be placed in air-tight containers. If the containers are not sealed tightly during the drying process, the silica gel absorbs moisture from the air and flower dry slowly or not at all. Flowers placed in silica gel should be dry in 3 to 8 days. The exact time varies with the thickness of the flower.
After drying flowers in silica gel, it must be dried before it can be reused. Place the silica gel in a shallow baking pan and place in a warm oven (250 to 300o F) for approximately one hour. Stir the crystals several times while drying. Keep unused silica gel in air-tight containers.
Harvest flowers for drying when they are at their peak of beauty. Pick when there is no water or dew on the blossoms. The stems of most flowers should be removed prior to drying. After removing the stem, the fresh flowers should be wired using a 20 to 24 gauge wire. The wire stem can be bent so that the flower will lay flat, face up in the drying agent. Spike flowers, such as snapdragons and delphiniums, can be dried with the stem attached. They should be placed on a brace so that the flowers on the downward side of the stem are not flattened.
Since the drying time varies considerably, it is advisable to put only one flower species in a drying box at a time. Place a 1- to 2-inch layer of drying agent in the bottom of the container. Leave a space between each flower and cover it with 1/2 inch of the drying agent. More than an inch could distort their shape due to the weight of the drying agent. A simple way to get gentle, even distribution of the drying agent over the flowers is to use a sifter or a coarse sieve. Gently sift the material over the petals making sure that all petals remain in place as more is added. Use a toothpick to correct bent petals or to reposition them.
After all the flowers have been completely covered, lift the container and tap it gently on the base to help settle the material, then recover exposed flowers. Remember, do not cover the boxes containing the borax-cornmeal agent. However, put an air-tight lid over those dried in silica gel. Place all containers in a warm place. Write the flower species and the drying commencement date on a label or piece of masking tape and place on the container.
The drying time varies depending on the flower species and the type of drying agent. Tiny, frail flowers naturally dry more quickly than massive ones and so need less time in the drying agent. Check the flowers occasionally during the drying process. Carefully remove and check the condition of one or two flowers.
Drying is complete when the flowers are dry but not brittle. Flowers that have been dried too long will be brittle and break easily. If removed too soon, the petals are still moist.
To avoid damage to the dry flowers when removing the drying agent, tilt the box and allow the agent to slide out. Carefully remove the flowers as they are exposed. A thin dusting of drying agent may cover the flowers when they are taken from the container. It can be removed by gently tapping the stem or brushing it off with a soft-bristled brush.
Below is a partial list of flowers suitable for drying. There are many others that can be dried. If a flower is not fleshy and does not begin wilting immediately upon picking -- it is a good candidate for drying.
This article originally appeared in the August 9, 1996 issue, p. 140.
Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on August 9, 1996. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.