As I go through the gardening season I like to plan ahead to fall and winter so I can have a supply of dried flowers. There are many good plants for drying in my garden but I have to catch them at the right time so I can harvest them at their best. I like quick simple methods of drying that will be easy for me to accomplish at a time when I like to spend most of my day in the garden. Here are some tips on flowers that dry well, how to harvest them, and on easy methods of drying them.
Most garden flowers should be harvested in the morning after the dew dries and when the flowers first open. Some flowers are best pressed; I use one of my many underused phone books. I put a couple of volumes of my encyclopedia on top to increase the weight and pressure. Others dry best when they are hung upside down in a dark, dry, well ventilated place. A few plants require virtually nothing special; they will dry standing upright in a vase. In general, I find that I am disappointed in most white flowers as they often turn tan and show flaws more starkly (but hydrangeas are a major exception.) Dark flowers tend to get darker and can look black (especially true of red roses). Here are some of my favorite flowers (and seed pods) for drying with the methods that works best.
Phonebook Drying (Newspaper works too but phonebooks are neater)
As the pansies, cornflowers, and larkspur get lanky I pull off the individual flowers and put them in the pages of a phone book. The larkspur can also be dried by the hanging method but shatter easily so I tend to use the few flowers I have in small projects rather than arrangements. Other flowers that dry well this way are astilbes, coral bells, Lady’s Mantle and columbine. As I do this I look around for attractive leaves to dry this way; fern, columbine, rose (especially the leaves of R. rugosa), and both red and green Japanese maple (the more dissection the better). I look for interesting form and color and avoid thick fleshy leaves.
Drying by Hanging
Cockscomb, yarrow, roses, lavender, and Bells of Ireland are best stripped of foliage and hung in bunches in a dry, dark, well ventilated place. Use rubber bands to secure the clumps, and hang them from hangers, hooks, clothes bars, or on a wooden laundry dryer. Strawflowers and globe amaranth have very weak stems and if you are going to use them in arrangements you may want to wire them. To do so, cut the stems off at 1” and insert a 6-8” long piece of 22-23 gauge wire into (but not through) the flower head along side the remaining stem. The flower will grip the wire as it dries. Once they are dry, you can tape the wires with brown or green florist tape. For best results with strawflowers harvest and wire them when only a couple of rows of petals are out. Strawflowers and globe amaranth can be used in craft projects where they are glued to a surface and so don’t need to be wired.
Grasses, baby’s breath, allium seed heads, Chinese lanterns, statice, globe thistles and hydrangea blossoms dry well upright in a vase with or without water. Alternatively, you can insert the leafless stems through the whole of a piece of hardware cloth elevated of the ground. The trick with hydrangeas is to wait until the flowers age a bit and produce enough structural material to keep their shape. This stage is usually accompanied by a slight change in color from off white to green and then pink and burgundy in the South; in cooler climates flowers turn shades of blue and purple. This usually occurs in late summer or early fall so wait until then to harvest and dry hydrangeas.
There are several other ways to dry flowers but they take more time and have more variable results. I find these flowers and techniques give me enough dried flowers in fall to meet my needs so I am satisfied with these simple methods. I have used silica gel, microwave oven, and cornmeal with good results but they are much more time consuming. If you want to make dried arrangements this fall with minimal effort and time, give these ideas a try.