Preserving Flowers for Year-round Use
Clifford W. Collier, Jr., Extension Specialist, Landscape Architecture
Revised by John Jett, Extension Specialist, Horticulture
Preserving flowers for year-round use has been an artistic form of expression for decades and there are many methods by which flowers, foliage, grasses, seed pods, etc., may be preserved. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and only through practice, and trial and error will the individual discover the method that suits him best.
Hanging To Dry
Air drying is one of the easiest methods of preserving seed pods and flowers and involves no expense. Simply tie the flowers in loose bunches and hang upside down until they are dry. A warm, dark room is the best. One to three weeks may be required for complete drying.
The use of borax for preserving flowers has an advantage in that the flowers hold their shape and shrinkage is minimal. Generally the color of the flowers is assured except pinks and reds may vary. Time is of the essence, however. If the flowers remain in borax too long, they become brittle and lose their petals.
Generally, a mixture of half borax and half corn meal (white or yellow), sand or oat meal is recommended. The mixtures may be sifted and the borax used over and over. Some experts use a 1 to 5 and still others a 1 to 10 mixture. Experimenting will be necessary to suit individual techniques and preferences. Apply the same method as when sand is used. Lift the flowers from the borax mixture by gently running the hand under the flowers.
The individual must decide whether the flowers should be dried face-up, face-down, or horizontally. The form or shape of the flowers will determine the best method.
Drying face-up: Use a shallow box propped up over another carton about 8 inches high. Punch holes in the box large enough for the stems to go through and far enough apart that the flower heads do not touch. (The stems do not need to be very long as they may be lengthened by florist wire.)
Draw the flower stems through the holes, leaving the flowers face-up resting gently on the bottom of the top box. Sift the borax/meal mixture under and between all the petals and around each flower until it is completely, but lightly covered.
Drying facedown and horizontally: Cover the bottom of a box with an inch or more of the borax/meal mixture. Make little mounds in the mixture on which to place the flowers. Sift more meal and borax around the flower until it is covered. (Stems do not need to be covered.) Place only one layer in each box.
When the flower petals are dry, they may be removed from the mixture. Occasionally test one flower head to see how it is drying. When dry remove all the meal and borax with a soft brush.
Fine white sand, such as that found on the seashore, is the best. Use a cardboard box with holes in the bottom. Cover the bottom with newspaper and place one-half inch of sand in the box. Place the flowers face-down, stems and foliage in the box
and cover with additional sand. 7 to 10 days will be required. Then punch holes in the bottom of the box and let the sand drain. Do not pull the flowers from the sand as the petals and foliage may be destroyed.
Sand from the river and beach should be washed and baked in the oven until dry. This should be done twice. Fine builders sand is cheap and may be used without additional preparation.
For foliage: a mixture of 1 part glycerin and 2 parts water is generally recommended. Heat the water and then add the glycerin. Place the stems in the hot mixture for quicker results. Branches may be any length. Pull back the bark and crush the base of the stems about 4 to 6 inches. Place the branch ends in the solution 4 to 6 inches deep as soon as they are cut. Branches should be allowed to remain in the solution 2 to 6 weeks. The foliage should then last indefinitely.
Most foliage preserved by glycerin will turn brown but will remain pliable. Some leaves if cut green will retain their color if they are removed from the glycerin within 24 to 36 hours. Cake coloring may be added to the solution to obtain a green, red-brown or yellow-brown color.
Placing fragile flowers and foliage between layers of newspapers and weighting to keep them flat is the best method, since newspapers are very absorbent.
Another method of pressing to maintain a natural look is to collect branches at their peak of color and place them face down on five or six thicknesses of newspapers. Cover with the same amount of newspapers. Do not use too much weight but only enough to hold the papers and branches in place. Leave for 5 to 10 days. The foliage should last indefinitely.
Place one inch of sand in the bottom of a shallow pan and place the flowers on the sand. Completely cover the plants with additional sand and place in an oven one to two hours. The oven should be set at its lowest reading.
Shellac is used to hold berries and seed pods to their branches and twigs. The shellac may be applied with a brush or spray or dipped into the shellac and then hung to dry. Clear shellac thinned with denatured alcohol gives the best results.
There are special preparations such as Flower-Dri, especially made for drying flowers. These are generally sand-like materials with a great moisture absorbing capacity. Although they are expensive, most experts consider these materials the best to use as the drying process is fast and the natural colors are preserved.
There are many other materials that may be used for drying flowers such as using detergents. They may be used alone or mixed with corn meal at the rate of 1 part detergent and 2 parts corn meal. Kitty litter is also very absorbent and light in weight and may be used by applying the same techniques used for sand or borax methods of drying.
There are many other materials that may be used and each individual may want to experiment with using materials around the home. Their only requirement is that they be very absorbent, such as blotters or paper towels.
Although it sounds odd, sometimes plants may be dried in water. The tip end of the stem is crushed and placed in about one inch of water. The branch or stem remains in the container until the water evaporates.
Tips For Collecting Material
A wealth of material for drying exists around the home, in parks, and along roadsides. They may be cultivated flowers or those considered as weeds. Each will have a particular characteristic which will qualify them for use in dried arrangements.
- Keep alert to materials the year around.
- Look for varying shapes, colors and textures. Be especially aware of unusual shapes or curved lines.
- Obtain flowers at different stages of growth and bloom; that is, some while still in bud from partially open and those in full flower. (Flowers dry best when cut at the peak of bloom.)
General Tips On Drying
- Begin drying plants immediately after cutting. Do not put them into water unless they must be kept fresh in transit.
- Be sure all moisture is removed from drying agent before using.
- Pick flowers and foliage when they are dry. Do not pick after a rain or when dew is on the plant.
- Flowers being dried should be kept in an air tight container.
- Store dried material in a dark, dry, air tight container. A plastic spray makes material resistant to moisture as well as minimizes the possibility of their coming apart.
- Wire flowers before drying.
- Do not dry or store flowers in the sun because they will lose their color.
When using borax, sand, detergents, or commercial preparations and drying the flowers face-down, insert a long pin, such as an upholstery or corsage pin, through the center of the flower. The head of the pin should rest gently on the bottom of the box, extending through the drying medium. This will keep the flowers from having a flat appearance.
List of Plants and Treatments
Download a list of plants which may be preserved and the recommended treatments for each. This list is by no means complete but it does give instructions on how some specific plants may be treated and can serve as a guide for preserving similar plants not listed. These are not the only methods but are the methods used by those experienced in preserving flowers. It should be noted that the plants are listed according to the names by which they are most commonly known, whether they are common or botanical names.