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DIY techniques for drying flowers

Air-Drying Your Greenery & Flowers - There are a number of air-drying techniques needed in order to accommodate all the various types of floral material.

Air-Drying Your Greenery & Flowers

There are a number of air-drying techniques needed in order to accommodate all the various types of floral material.

If you’re doing this in bunches they should each have just one kind of flower. Large flowers should be dried individually. As soon as you can after picking, strip the leaves from the stem because leaves retain moisture and this tends to slow the drying process.

Drying flowers DIY techniques and tricksUse wires, poles or wall hooks placed at least 6” below the ceiling. The heads should be staggered to allow enough air to circulate around to prevent rot and mildew from taking hold. For best results you need to do this in a warm dry area protected from direct sunlight with ample ventilation. Stems tend to shrink up as they dry out so you might find it necessary to re-tie individual flowers or bunches mid-way through the process.

The timeframe for drying can take from one week up to three or four weeks. This depends on the kind of greenery or flowers you’re drying, when and where you harvested them and the level of humidity where you’re drying the material. When flowers are hung the stems tend to dry out unnaturally straight and the flowers can become extremely brittle.

Dried flowers should be sprayed with hair spray or you can use an aerosol floral sealer. This helps to prevent shedding or shattering. Leafy branches, bamboo, lichen, moss and grasses dry best when laid out flat on absorbent surfaces such as newspaper, wooden floorboards, or cardboard. You can also dry spiky leaves, bracken and entire branches of ferns this way.

Take the material you’re drying and arrange it in a single layer placed on several sheets of newspaper. Make sure the material doesn’t overlap. You will notice that the leaves do shrink a little bit, but they do retain a lot of their original color as well as their shape on the stem, which doesn’t happen when they’re dried upright or hung upside down to dry.              

When drying plant material that is heavy headed, like large thistles, protea, large onion seed heads or globe artichokes, create a simple shelf made of floral netting or coarse chicken wire. Each plant should have its own hole. Enough room should be provided beneath to let the stems hang down freely.

There are many ornamental types of grass that dry very well when they’re put in a container and set upright, which allows them to droop naturally. Certain types of materials break easily once they’re dried, like salal leaves, boxwood and heather so these should be arranged while they are still fresh and just left to dry in place.

Drying in Sand

It takes about three weeks to dry flowers and greenery in sand. If you have tall, spiky flowers such as delphinium you would use a large flat box or container with an inch of sand poured into it. Scoop out a separate spot for each flower. After laying down the flowers, pour some sand using a circular motion around each flower to build up a cushion of sand around it. For round flowers like zinnias that are more compact, wire the stems and put them upside down with the bloom in about an inch of sand. Then build up some sand right around the edges of the bloom. Do not pour sand on top of the flower, it is only there to support the shape of the flower until it dries. The best sand to use is children’s play sand. It has been screened and washed, and there are no additives or chemicals in it.

You can place the sandboxes in the sun, your attic or any warm, dry location that will be out of the way. You can leave the flowers in the sand indefinitely since the sand isn’t going to move and won’t disturb the flowers. If you use silica gel it will pull moisture out of the flowers, so you will need to pay attention to the time when doing it this way. If you want this to go faster, you can put the sandbox or tray in the oven set at 100 degrees, or you can just leave the oven off and let the heat from the pilot light draw up the moisture.

Drying in Water

Another way to preserve greenery and flowers is by water drying. Start by stripping off most the leaves, placing the stems in about 2” of water. Find a warm place out of any direct sunlight to put them. The water becomes absorbed while evaporating as the flowers dry out. Certain flowers can dry very well using this method such as acacia, bells of Ireland, gypsophila, heathers, hybrid delphiniums, hydrangeas, proteas and yarrow.

Drying in The Oven

There are flowers that dry very well using a fan-assisted convection oven. These are more compact flowers like chrysanthemums, cornflowers, marigolds and zinnias. A non-ventilated oven will not work very well because it will generate a certain amount of moisture.

When using a convection oven you must dry the material over a span of many hours at a very low temperature of no more than 100 degrees. The time this will take all depends on the density of your flowers. Be sure to check the temperature of the oven often so that it doesn’t heat up too much.

Using a Microwave For Drying

If you have a herb garden you can use your microwave to dry and store them for future use. Cut the leaves off, removing any dirt or foreign material. Do not pre-wash. Lay them out on a paper towel being careful not to overlap any leaves. Place in the microwave on medium high for just one minute. If the leaves are still moist, then remove them from the microwave. Let them “rest” for ten minutes before repeating the process with a new paper towel. Continue this process until your herbs are dry. Once the herbs cool down to room temperature you can place them in a tightly covered container for storing.

Using Desiccants for Drying

Using desiccants, like silica gel or a mix of cornmeal and borax, for drying flowers and greenery, is not as predictable as other methods. But the good news is that the results can be amazing, even lifelike. Make sure the desiccant is completely dry before starting. You should warm it up in a 100-degree oven for about a half-hour first. 

When using desiccants, most compact flowers tend to dry out best when their heads are facing up. First wire the stems, bending the wires so they’re out of the way. Dry one kind of flower at a time, as some flowers just take longer than others. Lay spiky flowers like delphiniums lengthwise on the layer of desiccant.

Using a large flat container like a plastic storage box with a tight lid, layer about an inch of silica gel or use an equal mix of cornmeal and borax, on the bottom. Create a build up of the desiccant around the outside edges of the flowers. Then sprinkle a light layer over the top of each flower, using a toothpick to carefully separate the petals as you sprinkle. Keep sprinkling until you have built up the top layer to about one inch in depth.

Cover your container with the lid, making sure it snaps on tightly and store it in a dry spot. Go back and check on your flowers in four or five days to see if they are dry and papery. If not, sprinkle more desiccant over the flowers, close up the container again tightly and go back to check on them again in two days. Do not leave them too long as you don’t want them becoming dark and brittle. So just keep checking on them. When they are finally dry, pour the desiccant out slowly through your fingers. Catch each flower to make sure it’s dry and papery. You will want to remove any bits of desiccant that are still remaining with a soft brush.

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