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 during the cold, gray winter months.
The simplest way to preserve flowers is air drying. Gather material throughout the growing season. Once harvested, strip the foliage from the stems. Tie the stems into small bunches with rubber bands. Hang the loose bunches upside down in a warm, 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 material until it is thoroughly dry, usually 2 to 3 weeks.
Collecting flowers at the proper growing stage is vital to ensure high-quality plant material. The proper times to harvest specific flowers are listed below.
Yarrow (Achillea species) Harvest the stems when the flower clusters reach peak size and color. The flower heads should be firm.
Cockscomb (Celosia argentea) Pick when the flower spikes are at their peak of color. Crested, plume, and wheat types can be dried.
Larkspur (Consolida ambigua) Harvest when one-half of the flowers on the spike are open.
Globe thistle (Echinops ritro) Pick as soon as the central globes are blue-gray; but before the tiny flowers appear.
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) The stems should be picked when the clover-like flower heads are at the peak of color. Flower heads are pink, purple, red, orange, or white.
German statice (Goniolimon tataricum) Pick when all the tiny lavender-colored flowers on the stem have opened. The actual petals drop off during the drying process, leaving the white calyces (sepals).
Perennial baby s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) Pick the stems when the majority of the flowers are fully open. White and pink flowering varieties are available. The flowers of perennial baby s breath dry much better than those from the annual species.
Strawflower (Helichrysum bracteatum) Harvest when the outermost layer of bracts have opened, but while the center is still tightly closed. The flower opens as it dries. Strawflowers usually look best when only half open. Wire immediately on 22-gauge wire before drying.
Blazing star (Liatris spicata) Pick when 1/2 to 2/3 of the flowers are open.
Sea lavender (Limonium latifolium) Pick when the majority of the flowers are open.
Annual statice (Limonium sinuatum) Harvest the flower stalks when all the cup-like calyces have opened. The cream-colored petals whither and drop during the drying process, whereas the brightly colored calyces (yellow, pink, purple, blue, or white) remain.
Money plant (Lunaria annua) Cut when the pods begin to change from green to brown. Remove the two outer shells to expose the papery inner membrane.
Bells-of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis) Harvest when the green, cup-shaped flowers are fully open. As they dry, the flowers gradually fade to cream or tan.
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) Pick when the pods are firm and papery to the touch.
Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) Cut the stems when the pods, resembling Chinese lanterns, turn orange in late summer.
Mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) Pick when the small individual flowers on the spike are fully open and the calyces are blue.
Starflower (Scabiosa stellata) The flower heads should be harvested when the last few lavender-pink flowers have fallen off, revealing the gray-green, cup-like calyces.
Immortelle (Xeranthemum annuum) Pick when the flowers are fully open. For added variety, some flowers can be cut in the bud stage. Handle carefully as the dried flowers are easily crushed.
This article originally appeared in the 6/27/2003 issue.