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Drying Flowers & Plants for Arrangements

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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If you want to have dried flowers and other plant materials for arrangements this winter, you need to collect and dry them throughout the growing season.

The aim of drying, by whatever method you choose, is to retain the original shape, color and texture while removing the moisture.

The easiest dried plants are those that you collect after they have dried naturally. These include dry grasses, reeds, pine cones and many flower and weed seed heads. Let nature dry them, and then harvest them at the end of their growing season but before they become withered and weathered.

Air-drying is likewise fairly simple. All you do is harvest such plants as strawflowers, globe amaranth and Chinese lantern from the garden and goldenrod from the roadside, remove the foliage from the stems, and tie the stems in loose bundles with twist ties or florist's wire. Hang the bundles upside-down in a cool, dark, well ventilated place for about three weeks.

Air-drying and natural drying work well with materials that don't wilt readily. Those that do must be dried in a supportive material that will remove the moisture while retaining the shape of the fresh flower.

A dependable, inexpensive desiccant (drying material) is a mixture of 2 parts borax and 1 part fine sand, with 3 tablespoons of uniodized salt added to each quart of material to help flowers retain their original color. The mixture works better than either material alone. It's lighter and works faster than sand alone, and it tends not to bleach out color as borax alone can.

Silica gel is especially good for drying delicate flowers because it's lightweight. It also works quicker than borax and sand. A shorter drying time usually means that flowers retain their true blossom colors better. Sources of silica gel include florists and garden centers, as well as hobby and craft shops.

Silica gel crystals are expensive but may be used over and over. As they absorb moisture, they turn from their original blue to pink. Then they need to be dried in a warm oven (250 to 275 degrees F) for a few hours. When they're blue again, they're ready to reuse. To keep them from absorbing moisture from the air, store them in an airtight container.

To use a desiccant, pour about 1/2 inch in the bottom of a sturdy container. Place a layer of flowers on the material without overlapping them. Flat-faced flowers such as daisies may be placed face-down; others should be arranged face-up.

Then gently pour the drying agent in around the flowers, being careful to retain their original shape and keep petals in their natural positions. Keep adding desiccant until the flower heads are covered. Cover the container and do not disturb it.

Drying is complete when flowers are crisp and dry but not brittle. The thickest parts are the last to dry. Once the petals are dry, the flowers may be removed and air-dried the rest of the way.

To remove flowers, gently pour off the desiccant. Use a soft brush to clean any remaining material from the flowers.

Microwave oven drying uses a desiccant but cuts drying time from days to minutes. It also tends to produce plant materials that look fresher and more colorful than those obtained by other methods.

Use silica gel or some other desiccant to support the flowers in a microwave-proof container. Leave the container uncovered, and always set a cup of water in the microwave before starting to prevent excess drying.

Drying times vary from a minute to six or seven, depending on the size of the flower and its moisture content. A standing period of 10 to 36 hours after drying is necessary to complete drying and to allow the flowers to cool.

It may take some experimenting to get consistent results. That's why it's always a good idea to harvest at least twice as much material as you think you'll need to make up for those that are damaged in the drying process.

This resource was updated August 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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