Cindy Shapton writes, speaks, designs and dries flowers at her farm. Get a copy of her book, The Cracked Pot Herb Book by visiting

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Hold On to Summer
by Cindy Shapton       #Crafts   #Flowers   #How to

Poppy seedheads can be hung upside down to finish air-drying and are beautiful in arrangements.

Hate saying goodbye every year to your beautiful flowers? Dry those blossoms and you can keep them for years to come. I’ve always been intrigued with flower drying; in fact I used strawflowers (Xerochrysum bracteatum), statice (Limonium spp.) and baby’s breath (Gypsophila spp.) in my bridal bouquet so I could keep them along with my memories of that eventful day. I even had strawflowers placed on the wedding cake instead of flowers made of icing. I still have those flowers, though they are fading a bit. And they still make me chuckle when I think how my mom bartered manure for them from a neighbor.

Flowers are easy to preserve and they don’t have to be any particular type of flower – you can dry almost any bloom, though it might take a couple of tries to get it right.

I like air-drying and using silica gel the best. Both are easy to use with usually good results. White cornmeal, sand and even kitty litter can be used, but after trying them all, I prefer the results I get with silica gel.

Remember to have fun with the process and take notes so you can recreate your successes.

Hang bunches in dark, dry, well-ventilated area. Winged everlasting, ‘Strawberry Fields’ globe amaranth and ‘Caradonna’ salvia hang from the rafters.

Air-drying with stems up
Air-drying is an age-old technique that our grandmothers used. They simply cut flowers, tied them in bundles, and hung them up (by the stems) to dry in a warm, dark place with plenty of air circulation. Attics and barn haylofts were popular spots back in the day.

I don’t use the barn loft (too hot and humid for me), but I have used the attic, the garage, the family room, closets and even doorknobs in the kitchen. A fan helps move the air, promotes quicker drying and it’s portable.

In summer, I’ll often use folding clothes-drying racks; they fold up and can be put out of the way when they are not in use. I have a few wooden pegs near the ceiling in a couple of rooms and not solely for drying: I think drying flowers and herbs are beautiful and I like to see them year round.

Hydrangeas and Mexican sage drying in the garage.

Air-drying with stems down
Some flowers do best if you pick them and stand them up in a vase or bucket with or without a little water in the bottom. This gives the blooms the opportunity to dry slowly. Hydrangeas and peonies are good examples of flowers that do well using this method.

A screen is also helpful when drying flowers such as black-eyed Susans or coneflowers – by pushing the stem through the screen, the flower head lies flat against the screen, preventing it from curling.

Clockwise: Place a rubber band around bunches of yarrow and hang up to dry.  •  Feverfew blooms dry well left in a vase without water.  •  Larkspur comes in many colors and is easy to dry by air-drying or in silica gel.  •  Pick hydrangea blooms as they mature and start to change colors for the best results.

Some of the flowers I have dried using both methods
Lavender (Lavandula spp.), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Santolina, Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida), Victoria blue salvia (S. farinacea ‘Victoria’), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), bee balm (Monarda spp.), strawflowers, globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa), statice, baby’s breath, roses (Rosa spp.), cockscomb (Celosia spp.), peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum), Hydrangea, Verbena, cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), larkspur (Consolida ajacis), teasel (Dipsacus spp.), heather (Calluna vulgaris), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), gayfeather (Liatris spp.), grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.), Nigella (flowers and seedheads), Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi), peony (Paeonia spp.), Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota ssp. carota), poppy (Papaver spp.) seedpods, rose hips, Scabiosa flower heads, Baptisia seedheads, etc.

The best time to pick flowers for drying is in the morning after the dew has dried off, but before the sun gets hot.

Dried flowers should have good color.

Silica gel in the microwave
Silica gel can be purchased at flower or craft stores and can be used over and over.** Silica is a white sand-like substance with blue flecks that pulls moisture out of flowers quickly without fading the colors. Use caution when pouring silica gel. Pour very slowly: You don’t want to breathe it in.

• In a shallow glass dish, pour enough silica gel to cover the bottom.

• Snip the stems ½-1 inch from the flower head.

• Lay the flower heads on top of the silica gel (stems up or down) so the petals don’t touch each other.

• Cover with silica gel.

• Place dish in the microwave with a small glass of water.

• Cook at one-minute intervals at half-power until dry. It doesn’t take long, usually only two or three minutes total. Adjust time as needed after first batch.

• I use a popsicle stick to gently push back the gel and get under and lift out flowers.

• Use a small, fine brush (such as a small paintbrush) to gently brush away any leftover silica gel on blooms.

**When the blue crystals turn pink, put the silica gel in a glass baking dish in the oven at 250 F for about five hours – until the crystals are blue again. Then it is ready to dry more flowers.

Several different flower heads dried in silica gel: Zinnia, Queen Anne’s lace, cornflower, nigella, roses and black-eyed Susan.

Silica gel traditional method
Any container with a tight-fitting lid is fair game for drying flowers in silica gel. I save large tins and disposable plastic containers with tight lids. Plastic shoeboxes also work well.

• Pour enough silica gel to cover bottom of container – about 1 inch is good.

• Place flower heads as previously described in the gel, or whole spiky bloom stems, such as those of larkspur, can be laid lengthwise.

• Cover blooms so no plant material is showing.

• Put the lid on.

• Put it away in a closet.

• Depending on the thickness of the petals, they are usually dry in two to seven days. Check periodically. It’s better to leave them a little longer than not long enough.

Fill pretty pedestal dishes or cake plates with dried blooms for a colorful centerpiece.

Putting the flowers back together to use in an arrangement
Once the flower heads are dry, use small pliers to bend over one end of green floral wire to form a small hook. Starting with the straight end of wire, push through the center of the flower head (at the top) all the way through so that the hook is pressed into the flower head.

To hide the wires, either place the flowers close together or use dried filler material such as Artemisia. To keep dried flower arrangements from shattering, spray flowers with a light coating of hairspray.

Other uses for dried flowers

• Fill a pretty pedestal dish or cake plate with flower heads.

• Hot-glue dried blooms onto a wreath.

• Lay a river of colorful dried blooms on the dinner table to get a lot of oohs and aahs at your next dinner party.

• Glue dried flower heads onto a canvas to create a 3-D work of art.

Dried flowers can be used in so many projects, such as this wreath.

Once you start down the path of drying flowers, you won’t be able to look at blooms, seedheads, plumes, leaves or any other plant part without wondering what it would look like dried.


A version of this article appeared in a September 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton and Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen.


Posted: 09/29/17   RSS | Print


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