How to Preserve the Beauty of Fresh Flowers: A Guide to Drying your own Flowers

I love, love,  love, working with dried or 'everlasting'flowers. If I could convert everyone to using dried flowers all year round, I would be happy out. Put very simply, dried flowers are fresh flowers that have been cut, harvested and dried by different methods.While, fresh flowers are a beautiful and fragrant addition to any home, their beauty is fleeting. Dried flowers, on the other hand, can last for months or even years. If you're looking for a way to preserve the beauty of your fresh flowers, drying is a great option.

While nearly all flower's can be dried, not all of them are suitable for drying. Here are 5 methods methods for drying or preserving fresh flowers: 
  • Hanging or air drying: This is the simplest and easiest method of drying flowers. Simply tie the stems together and hang them upside down in a dark, dry place and the method which I use for most of my stems. 
  • Pressing: This method is best for delicate flowers and flowers with small petals. Place the flowers between sheets of blotting paper or newspaper and press them with heavy books or a flower press. The paper is important as it must absorb the moisture so do no use laminated or coated paper. 
  • Dehydrator method : This is where you dry petals or blooms in specialist little appliances called dehydrators . I use a very reliable and sturdy dehydrator for making petal confetti and for speed drying when I need to. ( I have a small Stockli one which is great for smaller items, herbs, fruit and flower heads)  (I will leave links for products and recommendations at the end of the article).  Low temperature settings work best.
  • Using a desiccant: I do use silica gel. Silica gel is that stuff you will find in new boxes of shoes in tiny little sachets ; silica simply absorbs moisture. This is a common method when you are trying to dry more delicate flower petals like roses or when you need to maintain flower petal structure and clarity for crafts like floral resin art or for more intricate designs. 
  • Microwaving: Apparently, this is a quick and easy way to dry flowers from certain Youtube videos I have watched but I have never used it (as I don't own a microwave and yes, I am a cavewoman) so I can't really vouch for it.  

All these methods take time and some cost more than others but the results or success of your drying escapades will totally depend on a few factors :

  1. time of cutting ; it is really important that you cut your flowers or foliage at the right time to ensure you have the best results. Time of cutting means both the actual time of the day you cut and the actual fullness and condition of the bloom. Morning time or late evening is best as the flowers will be naturally hydrated ; not too early or late so that they are covered in dew and the petals are wet but not too late in the morning that the flowers are sitting in hot sun. Also, it is bad idea to cut flowers for drying after a lot of rain; there is a good chance they will just rot on you. How far along the bloom is at is also important. A common flower to grow and dry really well is strawflower (helichrysum). Once the bud has started to open with two or more outer layers starting to show at the bottom, this is a good time to cut these. They are a great starter flower for dried flowers and come in lots of colours and are cut and come again.  Strawflowers will continue to open as they dry -if you cut them when they are too open, they lose their shape a little as they dry. The wiggle test is also key to cutting some stems like zinnias and yarrow. If you don't get a good firm 'wiggle' where the flower head is moving as one rather than flopping over a little, then it is too early to cut it.  I remove all of the foliage from the stem before drying. The more foliage or leaves below the flower bloom, the longer it will take to dry and also may allow mould to set in more easily. 
  2. type of flower; I experiment by drying everything. There some classic and easy to grow 'cut flower varieties' but in reality I try lots of different things. I cut different flowers and foliage at different stages of colour and bloom time. I also cut and dry lots of what we call 'weeds' and loads of grasses and berries including wild ones. In Ireland, we have beautiful weeds or rather native plants which I don't think we appreciate enough. That is a whole other post as there are so many Irish native species of plants which are just beautiful when dried and offer beautiful and unusual structures and textures in their dried form. ( I have left- over childhood nightmares of having to 'weed' drills of strawberry beds and potato drills but I am clearly over that now! )  I especially love dock seed stems which start off as a beautiful green and then continue to turn a beautiful chocolate brown on the stems. These dry really well, have amazing long stems and look great in big vases and add structure and texture to dried floral designs. There are so many of the classic dried flower varieties but some of my favourites are statice/limonium, gomphrena, rhodante, flax, honesty, yarrow, ammi, eucalyptus, pampas, stipa, briza maxima, ranunculus, thistle (eryngium), lavender - the list goes on.  I also flat out fail on many things but that's part of the learning curve. 
Flower varieties perfect for drying (the list goes on but these are a good start )  :
1. Strawflower
2. Lavender
3. Ammobium
4. Grasses (bunny tail, pampas much to choose from and I use lots of wild grasses) 
5. Statice 
6. Yarrow (the yellow varieties of yarrow tend to dry better)
7. Gomphrena
8. Billybuttons
9. Ranunculus (These get a special mention because if you cut and hydrate ('condition') them well before drying and if you have cut them at the right time, you will be rewarded with a beautifully soft and delicate flower head which adds a much softer texture to dried flower bouquets, especially in wedding bouquets.
10. Peonies & roses
11. Dock (at different colour stages of seeding,  this is magical)
12. Ammi and cow parsley seed heads
13. Nigella (both flowering and seed pod stage - I love the seed pod stage and colours)
14. Flax (Seed pod stage) 

  3. Drying environment : I cannot express enough how important this is. If you manage to grow, cut and then harvest your beautiful fresh colourful flowers, where and how you dry them is so important! The first year I put up a big sturdy drying rack which I made out of bamboo all fashioned together with rope and tied from the high ceiling in our very high but un-plastered outside shed. I cut and hung everything on the rack that year. Everything last thing on there rotted!  The shed was dry and dark enough or so I thought but it was way too humid in there and even with doors and windows open,  I lost everything and I didn't realise until it was too late. Humidity and moisture is a dried flowers worst enemy, followed closely by extreme heat and light. In extreme heat and light, the flowers will dry and open very quickly and usually too much but the colours' will also fade a lot quicker. Generally, I cut and hang most of my flowers in small bunches upside down straight away (i.e. without putting them in water) and this works well for most flowers.  As with all things in nature, there are exceptions. For example; yarrow is best put in water first to rehydrate before hanging. This will help with keeping its vibrant colour; otherwise it tend's to just dry back to a creamy light brown colour. Other flowers like statice and hydrangea will actually just dry naturally standing up in a vase - this discovery was made as my fresh vase of flowers in the kitchen was just left there to dry out as I forgot about it! While the rest of the flowers in the vase wilted or just flopped as the water dried out, both of these kept their colour and shape!

4. Time to dry & storage; this really vary's. It will depend on all of the above factors. Once there is no floppiness in the stem and the petals feel dry to the touch, you are just about there. One final thing, if you have gone to all that trouble to dry your flowers, then the most important thing to remember is how you store you flowers if you aren't using them straight away. A dark, cool room that is completely dry is so important. I use a humidity gauge which is really handy for checking what the moisture levels are like in the room. As it's been such a rainy Summer in Ireland right now, I am actually using an electric dehumidifier in my drying room to try and speed up the process.

Recommended links for more information : 

More dried flower inspiration :  Bex, the owner of Botanical tales also has a beautiful book published on this topic. 

Links for products mentioned : 

* Stockli Dehydrator  for making petal confetti and drying herbs and  drying smaller flower heads quickly. Using one of these really means no waste from your flowers. If flowers have mostly gone over, simply deadhead and place best petals in this to make your own DIY confetti. This is so handy, simple to use and you can dry lots of things at the same time and buy additional trays and accessories. I also dehydrate our own apples and fruit in this too so you can get good value from it. Also it isn't too heavy on power usage and has an automatic timer. 

* Silica gel : I have used these for drying the bigger flower heads like roses and for more delicate flowers like lisianthus when drying wedding bouquets. Do not leave the flowers heads in the gel for too long though as they become brittle and will easily break then. Use a mask when working with the gel . I start off with a layer of the gel beads on the bottom of a large cliptight airtight lunchbox of storage box then carefully place petals head face up and gentle cover each layer and then close the lid on it. 

* Humidity room gauge or monitor : There are so many options for this type but this is just to give you an idea what it looks like. Handy if they also show you temperature as well.  I use an Electriq dehumidifier which has worked amazing well and is still going strong even in frosty and very wet conditions. 

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