Drying or preserving flowers is a popular gardening activity. Dried materials are long lasting and can be used to add warmth and color to the home. Gather flowers that are free of dew or rain and insect or disease damage.
The simplest method to preserve flowers is by air drying. After harvesting the flower material, strip the foliage from the stems. Tie the stems into small bunches with rubber bands. Hang the loose bunches upside down in a warm, dark, dry, well-ventilated place, such as an attic or shed. (Harvested flowers are usually hung to dry so that the stems dry straight.) Dry the plant materials thoroughly. Two or three weeks is usually sufficient.
Drying with Desiccants
Another method to dry flowers is to cover them with a drying agent or desiccant. Flowers can be dried in several materials. A mixture of 2 parts borax and 1 part sand is an effective drying medium. The sand should be fine, clean, and dry. While the sand-borax mix is an effective drying agent, the weight of the sand tends to flatten the flowers. A lighter drying medium consists of equal parts borax and cornmeal. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of uniodized salt per quart to both the sand-borax and borax-cornmeal mixes to help retain flower color during drying. Drying time for the borax mixtures is approximately 1 to 2 weeks.
Silica gel is probably the best material for drying flowers. Drying time is about 3 to 7 days. Since silica gel dries flowers quickly, flowers usually retain good color. Silica gel is sold under several trade names and can be bought at craft and hobby stores. It is rather expensive, but can be used indefinitely.
Flowers dried in silica gel must be placed in an air-tight container, such as a large, shallow cookie tin or plastic storage container. Flowers dried in the borax mixtures can be left uncovered. A sturdy cardboard box is generally adequate.
Before drying flowers in a desiccant, remove all but 1 or 2 inches of the stem (dried stems are extremely brittle) and fashion a false stem with florist wire. Use 20 or 24 gauge wire. Insert the wire through the stem (if possible) and then up through the center of the flower head. Make a small hook at the top of the wire and pull it back into the center of the flower. This method of wiring works well for daisies and zinnias. Flowers with a hard base, such as roses, are wired differently. Push the wire through the base of the flower at a right angle to the stem. Both ends of the wire are then bent downward. Cut off the wire stem about 2 inches below the flower.
The drying procedure for the various drying agents is essentially the same. Place 1/2 to 1 inch of the drying material in the bottom of the container. Spike flowers, such as snapdragons, are laid horizontally on their sides. Most flat-faced flowers are dried face up. Gently sift the drying agent over and around the flowers. Make sure the petals remain in their natural position while covering. Continue to add drying material until the flower is completely covered.
When drying flowers in a borax mixture, place the container in a warm, dry place. Make sure the container is tightly sealed when using silica gel. Check the flowers periodically during the drying process. Drying is complete when the flowers are crisp and dry to the touch. Once the flowers are properly dried, carefully remove the drying agent to prevent breakage. (Dried flowers are rather brittle.) Fine residue can be removed with a soft, dry artist's brush. Finally, add a longer false stem to the dried flower. Cut a new wire to the desired length and twist it around the short wire that was placed through the flower. Starting at the base of the flower, wrap green floral tape over the wires. Once the stems are wrapped, the dried flowers are ready for placement in dried arrangements.
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 1998 issue, p. 92.