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Drying, Preserving Flowers, Leaves

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Drying, Preserving Flowers, LeavesI love fresh flowers. But dried flowers make up about 85% of the arrangements in my house. Every holiday is an excuse to make a new dried flower arrangement in a vase or basket, to decorate a coffee table, or act as centerpiece on the dining room table. These arrangements are one of the reasons I love to grow flowers.

When choosing and planting my flower bed, I always think ahead to the time of drying and arranging. The method you choose for drying your flowers will depend on the type of flower, and the amount of color you want to preserve.

There are several ways to preserve the fresh beauty of flowers for years in their natural vivid colors without a great deal of work or expense. The two easiest and least expensive methods are sand-drying and air-drying.

Sand Drying:

Sand-drying can be used to dry a wide variety of flowers, such as roses, tulips, dahlias, marigolds and snapdragons. Flowers which last only one day, like day lilies, do not dry well. Do not dry asters, azaleas, chrysanthemums, geraniums, petunias, phlox, pinks, poppies or violets. But feel free to do your own experimentation.

To prepare for sand-drying, cut the flowers at the peak of their show as any imperfections will be exaggerated by drying. Pick the flowers after the dew has fully evaporated. Make sure the stems are dry.

Prepare the flowers by reinforcing the stems and blossoms with florist’s wire or with white glue. For daisy-type flowers and flowering shrubs, push a 6″ piece of wire through the stem and right through the flower head; bend the end of the wire into a hook over the flower head and then pull it down, thus securing the head to the stem. For flowers such as roses and tulips which are dried face-up, cut off most of the stem except an inch or so and insert the wire as above. For many-petaled flowers, use glue instead of wire. Diluting the white glue with a drip of water and using a toothpick, dab a thin coat of glue at the base of each petal, working the glue into the base of each flower to attach each petal to the base. Dry completely.

To dry the flowers, slowly cover them with white sand in deep, open boxes. Cup-shaped or rose-shaped flowers should be dried face-up. Make the sand deep enough to hold the flowers in an upright position, position the flower carefully and slowly pour the sand around the base of the flower, then around the sides and under and over the petals. Pour the sand evenly and slowly in order to preserve the natural shape of the blossom.

Daisy-type flowers should be dried face down. Make an even base of sand in the box and make a little dip in the sand the same shape as the flower. Hold the flower steady and carefully build up the sand around the blossom until it is fully covered.

Snapdragons, lilac, elongated flowers and flowering branches should be positioned horizontally in the sand, flowering branches face up. Carefully pour the sand around and between the flowers and into individual blooms. A soft artists’ brush will help you in lifting the blossoms slightly as you pour the sand so that they won’t be flattened by its weight.

When all the flowers are completely covered with sand put the drying box in your drying area and leave undisturbed for one to three weeks.

Removing the sand should be done very carefully, tipping the container slightly, allowing the sand to flow slowly from one corner of the box. As each flower is released from the sand, lift it gently out.

If you wish to store your dried flowers for later use, seal them in airtight containers such as tins or plastic boxes sealed with masking tape, or in sealed cardboard boxes enclosed in airtight plastic bags.

Sand Preserving Leaves:

Place the leaves in a pan and cover them with dry, hot sand. Allow this to cool. Remove the leaves and smooth them with a hot iron. Dip them in colorless varnish and let them dry.

Large leaves can be painted with aluminum or bronze paint. Dip them into a clear plastic paint to set them firmly.

Air Drying:

Air-drying can be very successful with herbs, everlastings and ornamental grasses. Choose perfect plants with long stems, removing the lower leaves. Put the flowers in small bunches, fastening them together with an elastic band; then open each bunch into a fan shape. Hang the flowers head down from nails in a dry, dark place for one to three weeks until they are completely dry. The colors will usually be muted. Display your flowers in the house or store them as above. This method works with roses as well. Cut the stems off to the very bottom of the rose head, and carefully insert a 6-8″ length of wire. Hang upside down by bending the end of the wire over a hanger and place in a dark dry closet where it won’t be disturbed. One hanger can accomodate several flowers, just space them apart a bit.

Drying With a Desiccant:

Another method of drying flowers is to use a desiccant drying mixture such as silica gel, borax, cornmeal or alum. The following recipe uses a combination of silica and borax.

Simply mix a combination of four parts of borax to one part of silica gel. You can make your mixture by hand; the borax should be run through a sieve before mixing with the gel to remove any lumps.

You should treat all of the flowers to be preserved immediately after picking. Cut off the stems close to the base of the flower. In the bottom of a plastic bag or an air-tight jar put down a layer of the preserving powder and lay a blossom face down on the powder. Pour some additional powder over the flower until it is well covered. Then lay another flower face down and cover it, repeating the procedure until the bag or jar is full. Put on your lid, or if using a bag, press down on it lightly to squeeze out all the air. Tie the bag tightly with string as close to the contents as possible to prevent air from coming in.

Now put your flowers and powder mixture away in a dry place for about four weeks without peeking at it. Never store it out of doors.

At the end of the four weeks, open the container very gently and remove the blossoms one at a time, blowing the powder off them. Now you have preserved flowers in their garden freshness.

Glycerine Drying

This method keeps some flowers soft and pliable for easier handling and less shedding. Try this method with eucalyptus, baby’s breath and statice. According to “Martha”, this is the best way to preserve leaves.

You will need:

* Vegetable glycerine, (available at Pharmacies)
* Water
* A glass or enamel container large enough to hold the flowers upright
* A hammer
* Freshly cut flowers or leaves

Mix 1 part vegetable glycerine to 2 parts hot tap water, using enough to make the mixture about 2 inches deep.

Smash the bottom inch or two of the flower stems to help them absorb the glycerine quickly. (One or two whacks with the hammer is all you need.)

Place the flower stems in the glycerine-water mixture, and leave 3 to 5 days so the flowers can absorb the glycerine. (Baby’s breath can take 1 to 2 weeks, wait until the stems turn tan.) You can tell when the flowers have absorbed enough glycerine by the way they look and feel. A good way to test if they are ready is to let one stem air dry and compare it to the flowers in the glycerin after a few days. If the air dried flower feels dry and the flowers in the glycerine feel soft and look slightly darker in color they’re probably ready to be taken out of the glycerine mixture.

Cut off the part of the stem that was setting in the glycerin. Allow the flowers to air dry for a week or so before storing. The glycerine/water mixture can be reused several times.

Waxing Flowers:

You may want to experiment with waxing fresh flowers. This too is simple; just melt some paraffin wax and plunge each individual flower into the wax. Remove and shake the excess wax off each flower. Put it into the refrigerator to set and harden.

Preserving Holly

I use a solution of 2 parts boiling water and 1 part glycerine plus plenty of food coloring to maintain the green color. Immerse them in the solution. Some greens uptake the solution and through the stems and some don’t. So it is best to imerse the whole stem if you are not sure. I think a nice bath of the wax solution of (acrylic floor wax, 4 parts water to 1 part wax, with some color added) would be a nice finish to help lock in the moisture, and give the leaves a nice shine.


Plan Ahead!

Handling dried flowers must be done very carefully, as they tend to crumble and fall apart. If possible, think ahead about what you will be doing with the flowers after they’ve dried. If you think you’ll be using them in a vase, you’ll need long “stems”. Insert the wire before you dry the flowers. They are much easier to handle when “live” and pliable. If you decide you don’t need “tall” flowers later, you can always cut the wire to the length you need.

Wrap ’em up

Unless your flower arrangements are VERY thick, wire “stems” will show through. Hide them by wrapping green or brown florist’s tape around the base of the flower, stretching and overlapping as you move down the wire until it’s completely covered. You can also attach leaves to the wire as you wrap, making for a very nice “natural” look.

For Brighter Colors:

Rapid drying in a very warm, dry and brightly-lit place will produce bright blossoms; slower drying in a more humid spot will produce more muted colors.

After your flowers have dried, spray lightly with a fixative. Some craft stores carry products specifically for spraying and “fixing” dried flowers (try Design Master Super Surface Sealer). I have even painted my dried flowers. I’ve taken white and pink roses that had dried an ugly muted yellow and painted the tips of the petals with a light coat of color, using diluted acrylic paint or an antiquing wash

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