By Arlene W. Correll
This article is not for those of you who enjoy plastic, fiber or silk flowers. It is for those of us who still prefer "the real thing" preserved in a lifelike manner. Flower preservation is an easy and popular hobby that can be enjoyed by everyone. Flowers such as marigolds, zinnias, goldenrod, yarrow, roses and hydrangeas are readily available from your own or from your friends gardens and the costs of additional materials needed are relatively inexpensive when compared to that of other hobbies.
Matter of fact, this hobby, when done well, can provide you with a nice little income.You can preserve colored fall leaves, magnolia leaves (for
wreaths) and mistletoe (for holiday decorations) with glycerin, giving them a very natural appearance. Many people like to preserve the flowers from a wedding bouquet.
Preserving flowers and foliage can be fun year round. The instructions for some of the more common methods employed to preserve flowers and foliage is very easy to follow.
It is best to cut your flowers in the morning hours after the dew has evaporated from the plants. Once cut, group stems into bunches using rubber bands (pure rubber type rubber bands work best) and remove them from the sunlight as soon as possible.
people pick flowers too late
There are definite developmental times which are best for cutting flowers for drying. This can be very specific for different plants or even different cultivators of the same plant. In general, it is best to pick immature flowers (ones that are not completely open) since flowers continue to open during the drying process. If you pick a flower at the time that it looks perfect, it will continue to open while drying, leaving you with a flower past that ‘perfect stage’. For example, have you ever seen a pretty dried rose? If you really look at it, the flower is still fairly closed. Avoid harvesting flowers too mature in development. Such flowers will generally shed upon drying and will not hold up well in arrangements.
Where to dry your
or even a dark shed or garage or even in your basement, providing it is not damp. Make sure you hang your flowers upside down in order to insure straight stems. Hanging them the other way will give you distorted stems.
Many materials have been used to preserve flowers, some more successfully than others. These include sawdust, washing powder, talcum powder, alcohol, cornstarch, silica gel, cornmeal, borax, sand, antifreeze and even kitty litter! No one material can be considered the best because what may prove best for one flower may be an inferior material for another flower. In addition, it is important to realize that there is a certain amount of expertise involved. People may become skilled using a certain technique, while others may get poor results using that same method with the same flower species.
Except for microwave drying, the methods employed involve slowly drying freshly cut flowers in a manner that results in preserving them in a lifelike manner relative to color, form, flexibility and texture. This may be accomplished in several ways:
Pressing: This may still be the most popular or familiar method of preserving flowers. The plant material is placed between the pages of a book, which is closed and weighted. Special devices called plant presses give excellent results. Violets, pansies, larkspur and ferns preserve well when pressed in this manner. Material preserved with this method can be arranged in framed displays.
||Air-Drying: Expose the flowers to warm, dry air in a dark location. This is the oldest and simplest method, and is commonly referred to as the "hang and dry" method, a method name somewhat misleading because some flowers are air-dried on wire racks (peonies for example). It was the method used here in America by the English colonists. The majority of the flowers in the dried arrangements displayed at Williamsburg, Mount Vernon and other historic houses were preserved in this manner. The plant material to be dried is collected, tied, and simply hung upside down in a warm, dark, dry place. The darkness helps preserve the flower color. Flowers dried in this manner should be cut just before being fully open.|
Examples of flowers that preserve well by this method are baby’s breath, cattail, statice, celosia, dock, goldenrod, heather and pussy willow. Flowers dried in this manner are extremely stiff once dried. Blue and yellow flowers retain their colors when air dried, but pink flowers fade. Roses and peonies shrink somewhat when air-dried.
Desiccants: Embedding the flowers in a granular, desiccating material is probably the most commonly used method and many consider it the best all around method. Several materials may be used, and they vary in cost and the results that they produce. It is important to use the correct procedure when covering the flowers so that their form will be maintained. To cover a flower, put about an inch of desiccating material at the bottom of the container; cut the flower stem to about a half an inch and stick this into the center of the material at the bottom to hold the flower. Next, pour the desiccating material along the perimeter of the container, away from the flower, building up a continuous mound of about an inch. Then tap lightly on the container and the material will move to the flower, not altering the form of the petals (in other words, the material will not weigh down the petals as it would if it were just poured on top of the flower). Continue adding the material, tapping on the container, etc. until the flower is completely covered. Lastly, add an inch of the material above the top of the flower.
A Couple of "Borax Methods": This involves burying the flowers in a mixture of borax and white cornmeal (2:1) or borax and sand (2:1). These methods result in flowers that are less stiff than those preserved with the "hang and dry" method, but the particles tend to cling to some flowers. Also, in some cases, the sand, because of its rough edges, may produce small holes in the petals.
These methods are "trial and error" because the flowers can be burned if embedded too long. About 10 days is the average if cornmeal is used, and about 16 days of drying is needed if sand is used.
Silica Gel: This may be used with sand alone or with the borax methods just described. Its designation is a misnomer for it is not a gel; it is granular. The material can absorb about 40percent of its weight with water. It is not cheap, compared to the materials mentioned above. It is appropriate for quick-drying flowers and for drying flowers with closely packed petals such as roses. When silica gel is used, the container should be sealed for maximum effect. The flowers will dry in about a week. The commercial material contains fine as well as coarse granules, which, in some cases, produce very small punctures of the petals. Silica gel may be oven-dried (at 300 ° F) and reused. It is blue when dry and light pink when it has absorbed water.
Oolitic sand: Most connoisseurs of the art of preserving flowers agree that the best material available for achieving excellent results is oolitic sand, a material found along the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
Oolitic sand is heavy, which puts steady pressure on the flower while it’s drying; it is smooth therefore, it doesn’t injure the flower; it is hollow, which enhances its ability to absorb water; and it has a relative high pH, which helps to preserve the flowers color. It may be reused.
Common sand: Clean sand can be treated to produce a product similar to oolitic sand. Builders sand or play sand should first be washed thoroughly. Put the sand in a bucket of water with a couple of squirts of liquid dishwashing detergent. Stir it and pour off the water. Then, continue to add fresh water (pouring it off, adding some, etc.) until the added water remains clear. Then, dry the clean sand. For quick drying, it may be placed in a 250 ° F oven on a cookie sheet.
Once the sand is dry, weigh 15 pounds and place it in a medium-hot oven on a cookie sheet until it is evenly heated throughout. Remove the heated sand from the oven and stir into it 3 tablespoons of melted paraffin wax, using a large spoon. After its cooled, add 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda and 1 tablespoon of fine silica gel, distributing these throughout. The wax smoothes the sharp edges of the sand (but reduces its absorbency); the soda raises the pH (which preserves color); and the gel increases its absorbency. Like oolitic sand, this may be reused.
How much sand is needed? A 1-pound coffee can hold 4 pounds of sand, which is enough to dry one rose.
Often, dried materials lose some of their original colors. A practical approach to restoring colors to dried flowers is chalking them with a camel’s hair brush. The best grade of soft chalk can easily be grated on waxed paper and stored in plastic bottles for long-term use. Colors can be mixed to obtain exact hues. Once chalked, the flowers can be moisture-proofed with a spray like hair spray.
|Burying flowers for drying|
The method for burying flowers in any of these materials is essentially the same. However, there are some differences in the types of containers to use, as well as drying with either natural stems or wire stems.
Containers. Flowers dried in borax mixtures should be left uncovered during the drying process. Therefore, low cardboard boxes with tight, strong bottoms are ideal. This allows good air movement throughout the mixture, and if desired, stems may be left attached and sticking out of the mix to air dry.
Flowers dried in silica gel must be placed in air-tight containers. If the containers are not sealed tightly, the silica gel absorbs moisture from the air, and flowers dry too slowly or not at all. Candy tins, plastic containers, coffee cans, large-mouth jars, or any other container with a tight fitting lid may be used. If nothing with a tight lid is available, seal loose tops with tape.
Use shallow containers to make maximum use of the drying material. The natural stem should be removed before drying most flowers in silica gel. Therefore, flowers wired before drying are more easily arranged later.
Wiring. Two techniques of wiring may be used — hook wiring and cross wiring. Hook wiring may be used for daisies, marigolds, zinnias, or other flowers with soft centers. Flowers with a harder base or center, such as roses, should be cross wired.
To hook wire a flower, use about a 20 to 24 gauge wire and push it upward through the center of the stem, if hollow, or through about the center of the flower. Push it out the top of the flower, bend a small hook in the end of the wire and pull it back into the flower, hooking the center. Make sure that the small hook is well hidden in the flower's center. If it is not, as the flower dries, it will become visible.
To cross wire a flower, push the wire through the base of the flower at right angles to the stem. The wire is centered in the flower base, and both ends are then bent down to form a short stem.
In shallow containers, the wires may be bent several times or simply bent out of the way for drying. Later, they can be straightened after the flowers have dried and other wires added to prepare them for arranging.
Types of flowers that may be dried in silica gel and the other materials are almost limitless. However, some are more satisfactory than others and are best for the beginner. Any flowers that readily shed their petals, such as poppies, are unsuitable.
Water-Drying: Believe it or not, some flowers dry well if placed in water! The stems of the flowers are initially placed in a couple of inches of water, then the water is allowed to evaporate and be taken up by the cut flowers. The container and flowers should be in a dry, warm and dark location. Hydrangeas, yarrow, bells-of-Ireland and celosia dry well with this method.
Dried foliage can seemingly last forever. There is a dried laurel Roman head-wreath at the British Museum that is over 2,000 years old! Foliage may be preserved like flowers by air-drying or burying the foliage in a desiccant; however, there are other methods more appropriate for foliage preservation.
Heat Pressing: Press with a warm iron. Placing the foliage between two pieces of waxed paper and pressing the wax paper with a medium hot iron easily preserves the flexibility and the fall colors of foliage. New pieces of waxed paper must by used for each pressing.
Glycerizing: Allow the stems to take up and
translocate a glycerin/water mixture. This is ideal for magnolia and
mistletoe. Mature leaves work best, but younger leaves can be preserved,
too. Some ivies, mahonia, eucalyptus, boxwood, beech, camellia, oak and
rhododendron also do well if allowed to absorb glycerin. Using mature
leaves, mash the stem ends of each branch with a hammer and place the
stems in a warm mixture of glycerin/water (1 glycerin: 2 water, by
volumes). Branches of mature leaves should be no longer than 18 inches,
including the part of the stripped stem that is in the container of
glycerin/water. It is important to remember that the cut branches will
take up the glycerin/water mixture, so more of the mixture must be added
to the container to replace that which has been taken up. Keep the
solution depth at about 6 inches. After crushing the stems, some
hobbyists place the plant material in a salt solution (1 tablespoon
table salt/ gallon water) for 24 hours before placing them in the
glycerin solution, reporting that this increases the uptake rate of the
glycerin solution. If younger leaves are used however, they should be
submerged completely in a 1:1 glycerin/water solution (vol./vol.), then
washed once done.
You’ll know the process is complete when the entire leaf turns golden brown. It may take two to three weeks before all the foliage is done. The leaves remain flexible, and wreaths made from glycerized magnolia leaves can remain beautiful for many years. Glycerin can be obtained from your local pharmacist. Unfortunately, it is not cheap. Request the technical grade of glycerin; it is less expensive than the laboratory grade.
In addition to their use in dried arrangements, dried foliage on floral picks make excellent wreaths..
Flowers with thick petals, such as magnolia and hyacinth, do not dry well in a microwave. For microwave drying, select flowers just before they are fully opened. Fully opened flowers will often lose their petals after microwave drying. Foliage dries exceptionally well in a microwave oven.
During drying, the flowers must be supported so that they dry in their normal form. A borax/sand mixture or kitty litter will do, but silica gel works best. Cover the flower(s) as described above under desiccants. Use a setting of 4 (that’s about 300 watts) if the microwave oven has about 10 settings. If the microwave oven has a defrost setting, use that (about 200 watts). It takes about two and a half minutes to dry flowers in a half-pound of silica gel.
The best way to determine the length of time required is to employ a microwavable thermometer, which contains no metal. Place the thermometer into the silica gel about a half-inch from the covered plant material. Make sure that you can read the thermometer from outside the oven. When the temperature of the silica gel reaches about 160º F, it is done! You do not have to be concerned about the strength of the oven (its setting) or the length of time to have it on. Actually, some flowers need to be heated to 170 ºF, others to only 150 ºF, but these are exceptions. For most, it is 160 ºF.When the container of dried flowers or foliage is removed from the microwave oven, place a lid (slightly cracked) on it, and allow it to sit for about 24 hours before carefully uncovering the flowers.
In alphabetical order, the following are just a few of the flowers that can be dried successfully in a microwave: African daisy (Gerbera), African marigold, astilbe, buttercup, chrysanthemum, cosmos, daffodil, daylily, delphinium, foxglove, goldenrod, hollyhock, hydrangea, larkspur, lilac, pansy, rose, sedum, tulip, witch hazel and zinnia.
your dried flowers
Once you are done with drying your flowers, you will want to store them so you can use them whenever you want them. A good way is wrapping the flowers in newspaper and placing them in a cardboard box. Do not store the box containing the dried flowers where it is unusually damp (some basements) or very dry (some attics). Also, a lot of people think you should never store dried flowers outside (it would be way to cold). This is simply not true. Temperatures are not important. In fact, a garage can be an ideal place for storing dried flowers. Actually, if your home is heated by forced air, the preferred place to store dried flowers would be in a outside building away from the dry heat.
Word of caution: if you do store your dried flowers
outside, make sure you protect them from small rodents and insects (a
few mothballs will work).
|Care of Dried Flowers|
Routine dusting can be accomplished using a real feather duster or hair blow dryer on it’s lowest setting. In general, dried flowers should remain out of direct sunlight while you enjoy them in their final state. This will minimize fading over time. Do not place dried flowers in the path of forced air heat registers. Extremely dry air is very hard on dried flower structure (causes shattering). With the correct care your dried flowers will last for years.
Flowers that dry well.
Acroclinium, Swan River Everlasting
Grasses suitable for drying
heads suitable for drying
Honesty (Money Plant),
Queen Anne's Lace,
suitable for Pressing
suitable for Burying
This is a satisfying and rewarding hobby and has a bit of the romantic renaissance about it. Get creative. Besides bunches or bouquets you will be able to create wreaths, swags, garlands and whatever else you can think of. For those of you who grow herbs, let your oregano flower. You will get great bunches of purple flowers to dry.
One can even become more artistic by putting dry flower arrangements under glass and in old frames.
There are tons of sources for supplies on the web. Your library will probably be able to get you many books on the subject. So just get started! Plant your garden or harvest it now should you have one that has not been hit by frost.
), free lance writer, award winning artist and avid gardener is
mother of 5 and the grandmother of 8.
For almost 40 years she was an International real estate
consultant and during the last 20 years of her career traveled to many
parts of the world. She
has been a cancer and stroke survivor since 1992.
While working and raising her children she had many hobbies
including being a very serious home-vintner for approximately 14 years
while residing in upstate New York in St. Lawrence County producing
2,000 to 3,000 bottles of wine a year.
She was the president of the St. Lawrence County chapter of the
American Wine Society in
"Tread the Earth Lightly" & in the meantime
may your day be filled with...
Peace, Light, and Love,
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