Preserving the flowers of summer
By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Feature Article - posted Wed., Aug. 10, 2011
Now is the time to start collecting and preserving summer flowers and foliage for dried arrangements and craft items. Many annuals, perennials and herbs can be easily dried, serving as a reminder of summer’s floral beauty during the colder parts of the year.
Air-drying is by far the most common and simplest way to preserve a variety of plant materials. Flowers most suited to air-drying include yarrow, baby’s breath, larkspur, marigolds, lavender gaillardia, astilbe, globe thistle, strawflowers and Chinese lanterns. Air-drying is not a good technique for preserving flowers that shed petals, like roses, tulips or peonies.
Most flowers are picked before they are fully opened, as they will continue to expand while drying. Celosia, chives, marigolds and salvia are a few that should be allowed to open fully before collecting. The flower heads of early everlasting, tansy, yarrow and gomphrena can be left on the plants until quite dry before picking.
Flowers are best picked in the morning of a dry day. Strip off the leaves and tie the stems in bunches of a dozen or so. Hang them upside down in a dark, dry, well-ventilated spot. Garages and attics are often ideal. It takes about two weeks for most flowers to completely dry.
Strawflowers have very brittle stems when dry and are usually wired. Using florist’s wire and a pair of needle-nose pliers, make a small loop in one end of the wire and gently push the straight end through the center of the flower head. The loop will keep the wire from pulling through. I have found that gomphrenas also benefit from wiring, but instead of making a loop, the wire is pushed in through about a half inch of stem into the flower head. As it dries, the stem will tighten around the wire.
Flowers with higher moisture contents and delicate petals can often be successfully dried in a desiccant or drying powder. Fine sand or some kitty litters are used to hold the flower open while the air actually dries it. Silica gel, which is a bit more expensive, draws the water out of flowers. Drying powders are especially good for preserving flowers such as dahlias, delphiniums, roses, zinnias and carnations.
When using a drying powder, cut your flowers before they are fully opened. Remove the stem and insert a wire through the blossom. After placing a layer of your drying powder in a low, wide container, settle blossoms in and gently cover with the remaining powder. You want to completely bury the flowers. Drying takes place in two to seven days. Check flowers carefully but often. If they are allowed to over-dry, then they will become very brittle and hard to work with.
When the flowers are thoroughly dried, store them in covered boxes in an area of low humidity until ready to use. When creating arrangements, select flowers in complementary or contrasting colors with varying textures. Seedpods and ornamental grasses combine well with dried flowers. Containers can be filled with sand or florist’s foam to hold the plant materials in place.
In contrast to creating fresh floral arrangements which are started with the tallest elements first and then working your way down to the container, dried flower arrangements begin with the lower material, carefully working up to the taller flowers. This is because dried materials are more fragile and more likely to break.
Drying flowers and creating arrangements or other craft items can be fun and rewarding. For more information on growing everlastings, or on any other home and garden topic, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (toll-free) at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or get in touch with your local Cooperative Extension Center.