Fall is a common time for collecting plants to be used in dry arrangements. For beautiful cut flower arrangements, it is recommended to flowers just before they are at their fully opened stage, not after they have begun to fade. The flower surfaces should be as dry as possible to prevent mold and mildew; collecting on a sunny day should prevent wet flower surfaces. Roadsides, abandoned fields, woods, etc. are wonderful places to collect those materials which have dried naturally.
If the flowers cannot be processed immediately after cutting, put them in water for no longer than 24 hours as water taken up through the stem will do no harm but surface moisture will cause damage. However, some flowers, such as the ageratum and yarrow, will hold their color better if allowed to stay in water for several hours. Process more material than needed to allow for loss and shrinkage.
Flowers should be dried in a moisture-absorbing material, such as sand, borax, or silica gel and must often be wired after drying by these methods. Using a microwave oven is possible, but involves much trial and error in developing satisfactory procedures for various flowers. When using a microwave for drying purposes, use a desiccant such as silica gel to support the flowers in a glass or microwave-safe container. Do not cover the container, and always place a cup of water in the oven before beginning to prevent excess drying. Drying times vary, and a standing period following drying is necessary to complete drying and allow for cooling.
When using the upside down method of drying, prepare the place where flowers are to hang. Since they must be dried quickly, a dim attic with good air circulation is ideal. Most basements are too damp, and closests have too little air circulation. To prepare the area, string wires or cordsin parallel lines, about six inches apart. All foliage should then be stripped from the flower stems and the smaller flowers tied in bunches with differing stem lengths,so that the flower heads do not touch each other. Large flowers should be tied individually. The bunches and individual flowers should then be fastened to the strung lines, far enough apart so they do not touch. They are then left from two to three weeks–most flowers will dry in this length of time. When they are thoroughly dry, flowers may be packed in boxes according to size: heavy materials inone box, delicate flowers in other boxes and labeled carefully.
Some flowers that dry easily upside down are: (NOTE: Those starred should be stood upright in a jar).
Astilbe Everlastings Mullein
*Baby’s-Breath False Indigo Okra
Beebalm Gaillardia Onion
Blue Thimble Flower Globe Amaranth Plume Grass
Butterfly Weed Globe Thistle Plume Poppy
Calendula Goldenrod Queen Ann’s
Castor Bean Pods Honesty Lace
Cattail Ironweed Sage
Chinese Lantern Joe Pye Weed *Statice
Chives Larkspur (Annual) Straw Flowers
Cockscomb Lavender Sweet Sultan
Dock–pink, green, Lemon Verbena Tansy
brown Marigold Thermopsis
Dusty Miller Meadow-Rue Yarrow
Another method of drying is the sand or Borax method. Flowers that cannot be dried upside-down can be preserved by burial in sand or borax. Although clean, sharp, shore sand is best, sand used by building contractors is nearly as good. If using Borax, it must be noted that Borax MAY leave a slight film that is difficult to remove from the delicate-textured flowers. If Borax is indeed used, make sure it is not lumpy–sifting may be necessary.
Sand must be clean and dry, as damp sand will spot and spoil the flowers. It is recommended to use an ordinary cardboard carton large enough to hold several flowers. Put several thicknesses of newspaper in the bottom will provide additional strength. Pour in the sand to a depth of about four inches. Flowers should be stripped of all foliage and stems cut to the desired length. Short stems can be lengthened later with wire. The flowers should stand upside down, their heads placed so they do not touch each other, then pour sand gently over them. When the large flowers are partially covered, the spaces in between can be used for smaller flowers. Continue to pour on sand until the flowers are buried, however, it is not necessary to completely cover the stems, as most stems dry fairly easily in air. Be sure there is sand between each petal and in the trumpets of flowers like the daffodil and lily. If the flower is spike-shaped (like the coral-bells or bleeding-heart) or pyramidal (like the lilac), lay them lengthwise in the box and cover them gently with sand. Whenthe flowers are thoroughly dried, brush off the sand with a soft brush or tissue, and pack them in boxes. Each box should be labeled with the flower names it contains and store them in a cool dark place for at least two weeks. If borax is used, be sure it is not lumpy–it may be necessary to sift it.
Flowers that dry well in sand or borax are:
Asters Cornflower Loosestrife
Balloon-Flower Cosmos Liatris
Balsam Daffodils Lupine
Bleeding-Heart Dahlias Painted Daisy
Butterfly Bush Delphinium Pansies
Candytuft Dandelion Peony
Canterbury Bells Day-Lily Rose
Carnations (Pinks) Geranium Shasta Daisy
Chrysanthemum Gladiolus Stock
Coleus Leaves Gloriosa Daisy Snapdragons
Columbine Iris Tulip
Coneflower Lilac Zinnias
One product for drying flowers is silica gel, or FLOWER-DRI. The method for using it is very similar to the sand and borax method and silica gel can be purchased at florist
shops. After drying flowers, any moisture can be removed from the silica gel by heating it in an oven at 250 degrees F.
To dry flowers in silica gel, place flowers face-up in about two inches of silica gel in a shallow, covered pan. Sprinkle more of silica gel over the flowers until they are covered, making sure the silica gel is worked in around the flower parts. Flowers should be stored for one week in a covered container sealed with masking tape. After one week, carefully remove the dried flowers and blow or brush away adhering particles of silica gel.
Glycerin cannot be used successfully with in drying flowers, but it can be used for most foliages.