Drying Your Own Flowers

This article was submitted by Mary Briggs

You don’t need a large area to grow enough plants for several dried floral arrangements. Plan your garden so you can enjoy it year around by planting evergreens like boxwood, deciduous plants, annuals and perennials. You can also plant rows of flowers in your vegetable garden, too. Herbs are easy to grow and can be planted in flower beds, pots, window boxes, plant containers, etc. They transform simple cooking into gourmet dishes. They make lovely bouquets that delicately scent a room. When dried in bundles or crushed and put into a shallow dish – all these too delicately scent a room, especially when placed in the sun. They can be made into a wreath or an arrangement.

You can usually find a wide selection of weeds, grains, seed-heads and pods in craft stores. By drying your own focal flowers such as hydrangeas, zinnias, roses, dahlias, and sunflowers; and a selection of line flowers such as larkspur, delphiniums and liatris, you can save money and have a greater variety of flowers in your arrangements.

Harvesting – Successful drying depends not only upon the preserving process, but also upon picking the plants at the right time. Cut the flowers in the early A.M. or late P.M. At these times the flowers are fully saturated with water. Enjoy cut roses as they open. Just before they reach full bloom, remove them from the water and hang them upside-down to dry. Delphiniums, larkspur, foxglove, and lupine should be gathered when the lower buds are flowering, but the very top ones are still closed.

Select as near perfect a flower as possible. Cut the flower when the heads feel firm.

Air Drying

There are several air-drying methods used to accommodate all the different kinds of floral material. The easiest and most effective way to dry most flowers is to tie them in small bundles with twine, raffia or ribbons, and hang them upside down, out of direct sunlight in a warm, well-ventilated place – like a closet, for example.

Bunches should contain one type of flower. Dry large flowers individually – like hydrangea. Strip the leaves as soon as possible after picking. They retain moisture and slow down the drying process. Stagger bundles or individual flowers to allow plenty of air to circulate. This prevents mildew and rot. Warmth, protection from direct sunlight, a dry atmosphere and plenty of ventilation provide the best results. It may be necessary to re-tie the bundles or individual flowers half way through the drying process because the stems tend to shrink as they dry.

The drying period can range from one week to several depending on the type of material, when and where the flowers were harvested and the humidity. The stems of hung flowers tend to dry unnaturally straight and become brittle, handle gently.

Spray the dried flowers with hair spray or an aerosol floral sealer to help prevent shedding and shattering. Grasses, moss, lichen, bamboo and leafy branches dry well when laid flat on an absorbent surface like cardboard, newspaper or paper towels. Whole branches of ferns, braken, and spiky leaves can also be dried this way

example: Arrange material in a single layer on several layers of newspaper. Don’t overlap the material. The leaves will shrink a little, but they will retain much of their original color and shape on the stalk/stem; which they will not do if they are hung upside down or dried upright.

To dry upright, for heavy headed plant material. Take a cardboard box and make a shelf of coarse gauge chicken wire or use floral netting. Or make a grid using string, using quilter’s pins or finishing nails or brads to anchor the string on the top sides of the box, make several horizontal rows of string; then repeat going vertical. Each plant stem has a home in a square. Be sure to provide a deep enough box so the stem can hang freely.

Many ornamental grasses dry well when they are set upright in a container with a small opening, allowing them to bend slightly and naturally. Materials that break easily after they are dried such as: heather, pussy willows, statice and boxwood, etc. can be arranged while they are fresh and left to dry in the arrangement.

Oven drying: Compact flowers like marigolds, cornflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias, etc. dry well in a fan-assisted, convection oven. Non-ventilated ovens are not appropriate, because they generate too much moisture.

The material must be dried at a very low temp around 100 degrees, over many hours. The flowers are slotted through holes in a wire mesh rack leaving room for the stems to dangle below. The time required depends upon density of the flowers. Check often to make sure the oven does not get too hot!

Drying in Sand: Use children’s play sand, no chemicals. It takes flowers and foliage, about three weeks to dry in sand. To prepare tall, spiky flowers like delphinium, pour an inch of and in a large flat container (like a clean cat litter box). Scoop out a place for each flower and build up the sand around it. Pour the sand in a circular motion around the flower. To prepare round, compact flowers like zinnias, wire the stems (insert a thin floral wire into the stem), and place them upside down in an inch of sand. Build up the sand on top, by pouring sand around the edges of the flowers it just supports the natural form of the flowers until dry. The sandboxes can be placed in the sun, attic, or any other warm and dry location. Flowers can be left indefinitely in sand, because sand is inert and won’t affect the flowers. Silica gel draws moisture out of the flowers so you have to time them more carefully. To speed up the drying, place the sandbox in a 100 degree oven or let the natural heat from the pilot light (I you’ve a gas oven) extract moisture.

Drying with Desiccants: Although drying with desiccants, such as a silica gel or a mixture of borax and cornmeal, can be the least predictable way to preserve flowers and foliage, the results can be dazzling and lifelike. The desiccant must be completely dry before you begin. Warm it in a 100 degree oven for half-hour before using. Most compact flowers dry best with their heads facing up when using desiccants. Wire the stems before drying. Bend the wires out of the way as necessary. Lay delphiniums and other spiky flowers lengthwise onto the desiccant. Dry one type of flower at a time because some flowers take longer to dry than others.

Layer an inch or so of silica gel or an equal mixture of borax and cornmeal on the bottom of a large flat container. Plastic storage boxes with tightly fitting lids are perfect. Build up the desiccant around the edges of the flowers. Sprinkle a light layer on top of each flower. Separate the petals carefully with a toothpick as you sprinkle. Build up the layer on top until it’s one inch deep. Cover the container with a tight fitting lid and store in a dry place. Check in four or five days to see if the flowers are papery and dry. If not, re-cover with desiccant, close the lid and check again in a couple of days. If they are left too long, they become brittle and dark. So, check often. When dry, slowly pour the desiccant through your hands, catching each flower and testing to make sure it is papery and dry. Use a soft brush (artist paint brush) to remove any desiccant that tends to cling.

Microwave Drying: Herbs can be successfully dried in the microwave and stored for future use. Cut perfect leaves and remove any foreign material. Don’t prewash. Place on a paper towel, don’t overlap, and heat on medium high for one minute. If still moist, change the paper towel, and repeat the process until herbs are dry. Allow the herbs to ‘rest’ for ten minutes – in between cooking. Wait until the herbs are room temp before storing in a tightly covered container.

Storing Dried Flowers and Foliage: The safest way is in a long, shallow cardboard box. Poke holes in the sides and tops to let the air circulate. Add small packets of desiccants to absorb moisture. Wrap your dried bundles of flowers in tissue paper, and lay them in a head and foot arrangement. Don’t overcrowd. Label the box and store where the temp is relatively constant.