University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Have you ever wished you could enjoy the beauty of summer flowers year-round?  You can, if you preserve garden flowers now while they're in their peak of bloom.  Here's how.

Some flowers that are easy to preserve include baby's breath, celosia, yarrow, statice, globe amaranth, strawflowers, xeranthemum, and artemisia.  But because flowers and plant parts respond differently to drying and preserving methods, you may need to experiment for best results.

Start with top quality plants.  Choose fresh, unwilted, undamaged flowers and foliage from your garden, florist shop, or roadside meadow.  Collect plant materials on a warm, sunny day after the dew has dried.  Dampness encourages mold and slows the drying process.

Try to cut flowers just before they are fully opened.  Always gather more material than you think you'll need for your arrangements and wreaths since some shrinkage and loss of plant material will occur.

Air drying is the easiest and most popular method of drying flowers.  It is generally the best method to use for small flowers in clusters such as baby's breath, yarrow, and hydrangea as well as dock, goldenrod, grasses, sedges, and cattails.

After cutting the flowers, strip the foliage from the stem, then tie a few stems together with a string or rubber band.  Hang upside down on a hook, clothesline, or coat hanger for several weeks in a warm, dry place with good air circulation, such as an attic or old barn.  Flowers such as hydrangea and yarrow dry best when placed upright in a jar filled with one-half inch water that is then allowed to evaporate.

To dry zinnias, roses, and other flowers with thick heads, use a drying agent--borax, white cornmeal, or silica gel (available at crafts shops).  These materials draw the moisture out of plant tissues while still retaining flower color.

Spread the drying agent about an inch thick in the bottom of an airtight container.  Select blooms approximately the same size and type, and remove the foliage and most of the stem.  Place the blooms on top of the layer, and cover completely with more drying agent.  Seal the container, and place in a cool, dark place.

In about a week's time, the flower petals will be dry and crisp.  Gently pour off the agent, and remove the dried flowers.  To hold the blooms upright in arrangements, use 20 or 22 gauge florist's wire.

If you want instant results, you can microwave the flowers with silica gel in an oven-proof or glass container.  Preheat one inch of the silica gel on high for one minute or until crystals turn blue.  Place a flower on the warm crystals, and cover completely with silica gel.  Cook for one to three minutes, then let stand for up to 25 minutes.  (Standing time will vary depending on flower type).

Or preserve summer flowers by pressing them between layers of paper towels or waxed paper (best for fine or delicate flowers) in a wooden flower press or between heavy books.  Select only perfect specimens, but keep in mind that while orange and yellow blossoms will retain their vivid color, most blues, purples, and pinks will fade, and reds may turn a muddy brown.

Leave your flowers in the press for four to six weeks.  If the material is very fleshy, you may need to change the paper after the first 24 hours.

To preserve woody stems of leaves and fruit, cut the ends and place the bottom four to five inches of basal stem in a glycerine mixture until the plant has a glossy appearance and a leathery feel to all its leaves.  To make the mixture, combine two parts water with one part glycerine (available at most drug stores), and blend thoroughly.  Save the glycerin solution for future use by adding a few drops of bleach.

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