It may be too hot for outdoor chores, but you can still quench your thirst for gardening by bringing in your flowers for drying. Dried plant materials can last almost forever when properly harvested and preserved.

Some plants are naturally dry, while others must be processed to remove moisture. Those that are naturally dry, such as grasses, pine cones, cattails and dried seed pods, will need little processing before arranging. Harvest grass plumes after they open, but before they wither. Cattails should be cut when they first turn brown and flowers are still visible at the top. To prevent shattering of such materials, spray with hair spray or an aerosol hobby lacquer.

Most flowers and plants will need to have the moisture removed to preserve their ornamental character. You’ll want to start with the best quality materials to ensure an attractive end product. Pick flowers before they completely open, since they will continue to open as they dry. You’ll also find that colors often darken as they dry. Gather the materials after morning dew has dried, but before plants wilt in the heat of the day.

Several methods of drying can be used to preserve plant materials. Air drying is simple and works best with plants that have sturdy stems and flowers that are naturally semi-dry, such as baby’s breath, money plant, statice and strawflowers. Remove the foliage from the stems and tie a bundle together with string or twist-ties. Hang them upside down in a cool, dark place with good air circulation for about three weeks.

Desiccant materials such as silica gel or a borax-sand mix are best used for those plants that wilt quickly, such as violets, roses, carnations and dahlias. Choose a container that is large enough to allow the plant materials to be dried without overlapping or crowding. Pour .5 inch of desiccant into the bottom of the container. Place the first layer of flowers on top. Flat-faced flowers such as daisies should be placed face-down. All other flowers should be placed face-up. Gently place the desiccant around and over the flowers, being careful to retain the flower’s form. Continue layering flowers and material until the container is full. Then cover and place in an out-of-the-way location.

Place a test flower near the top so the progress can be checked periodically without disturbing the entire container. Drying is complete when the flowers’ petals are crispy, but not yet brittle. Drying time will vary with the type and size of flowers.

Your microwave oven can be used to dry flowers quickly and actually results in a fresher, more colorful dried flower. Use a desiccant to support the flowers in a microwavable container. Leave the container uncovered to allow good air circulation. Place a cup of water in the oven while drying to prevent excessive drying. Flowers should be microwaved on the high power setting. Drying times will vary, depending on the flower type, quantity and individual oven. Small flowers, such as violets, daffodils and orchids, may need only one to two minutes, while larger flowers, such as peonies, mums and dahlias, may take three to four minutes. Microwave in one-minute increments until you gain experience.

Pressing is a great way to preserve flat-faced flowers, such as violets, daisies and single roses. Leaves and ferns also press easily. Place the flowers or leaves between several layers of newspapers, paper towels or pages of an old phone book. Weight them down with a large, heavy object. Check their condition in about three weeks. Pressed flowers can be glued to a paper background and placed in a picture frame for an elegant, lasting remembrance.

 


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