Preserving Plants: Learn How To Dry Flowers And Foliage

Preserving Plants: Learn How To Dry Flowers And Foliage

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

Creating dried flower arrangements is a fun hobby and can turn into a lucrative side job. You can begin this easy chore by growing plants and flowers to dry and use in dried flower arrangements.

How to Dry Flowers

Drying flowers and foliage is most often done by a method called air drying. This is a simple process that involves using a rubber band to secure small bunches of flowers together and hanging them to dry. When learning how to dry flowers, you’ll find it’s best to hang these bunches upside down.

Preserving plants by drying removes moisture so that dried flower arrangements last for longer periods of time. When hanging flowers to dry, put them in a cool, dark space. Any dark room with gentle air circulation works. Drying flowers and foliage by hanging usually takes two to three weeks. The darkness helps retain color when preserving plants.

Other Ways of Preserving Plants

Some flowers and foliage don’t dry well by hanging, or you may not have room to hang flowers. Try preserving plants with a drying agent, called a desiccant. The drying agent may be borax, cornmeal, or preferably silica gel. When using borax, mix it with cornmeal and a few teaspoons (15 to 20 mL.) of salt, so the color does not bleach from the flowers.

Place the drying agent in a box or container with a tight fitting lid. Add the flowers and foliage. Gently cover the entire flower and stem to be preserved. Make mounds to hold flower heads and then cover gently with the drying agent, using a spoon. Dumping the desiccants on delicate petals may damage the flower.

Flowers are dry when they feel papery. The time frame for drying plants this way depends on the size of the plant material, how much moisture it holds, and which drying agent you are using. Typically, flowers are dry in two to three weeks using this method.

Pressing blooms in a phone book is another means of drying flowers. Locate them between the pages and place a heavy object on top of the phone book. Pressing is not the ideal way to preserve flowers for dried flower arrangements, but is a good way to save a flower from a special occasion.

Growing Plants and Flowers to Dry

Many flowers and foliage plants that are already growing in your garden will look great in dried flower arrangements. Some of these include:

  • Baby’s breath
  • Statice
  • Rose
  • Hydrangea
  • Eucalyptus
  • Money plant

Take the time to preserve the flowers properly and you can create a long lasting work of beauty.

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Some flowers just work better than others. Flowers with high water content, like sedum, don't air dry well. Below is a partial list of flowers that are good choices, but the best way to learn which flowers work is by experimenting. Always cut more flowers than you will need because you will probably lose some in the drying process.  

  • African Marigold (Tagetes erecta)
  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
  • Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
  • Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)
  • Lady's Mantle(Alchemilla mollis)
  • Larkspur (Consolida ambigua)
  • Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)
  • Mealy Cup Sage(Salvia farinacea)
  • Love-in-a-mist - seed heads (Nigella damascena)
  • Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
  • Pompom Dahlias (Dahlia hortensis)
  • Poppy - seed heads (Papaver somniferum)
  • Roses (Rosa)
  • Starflower (Scabiosa stellata)
  • Statice (Limonium sinuatum)
  • Strawflower (Xerochrysum bracteatum)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

What are the Best Flowers for Drying?

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Drying flowers is an excellent way to bring the scent and feel of summer into the house in the winter, and can also be used to create decorative arrangements around the home. In addition, most of the flowers which dry well are beautiful, and can enhance the garden before you collect them for drying. As a general rule, when drying flowers, pick out the best specimens on the individual plant, as drying has a tendency to highlight flaws in the flowers. Handle your chosen flowers carefully, and try to have a space set aside in the house for drying flowers so that they will not be jostled or damaged.

Many of the plants which produce blooms suitable for drying are hardy across a wide variety of zones. If you live in USDA zones three through nine, you can plant goldenrod, yarrow, baby's breath, globe thistle, and statice, and plan on drying flowers from these plants in the spring through late summer. Goldenrod is a medicinal plant that also produces small, delicate golden blooms on long stems which can fill out a dried flower arrangement. Yarrow produces lacy flowers in a range of colors including red, pink, and white. Baby's breath produces small, delicate white flowers which form lacy sprays on tall stems another excellent plant for filling out arrangements, while globe thistle forms purple thistle heads that can look quite striking. Statice produces tight clusters of bell like flowers in a range of colors including purple, red, white, and pink. You can also plant Sweet Annie, a plant which produces lacy green foliage which some gardeners compare to feathers it is hardy through zone 11.

Less cold tolerant plants which thrive in zones four through ten include bergenia, which produces small pink bell like flowers, along with lavender, which smells delicious in addition to looking beautiful. Another striking plant is love in a mist, which has tissue like purple blooms and spectacular seed pods, both of which can be dried. You can also plant larkspur and delphinium, both of which produce tall rods of multicolored flowers ranging from white to purple. When drying flowers from this category, be careful, as many of them are very moist, and need to be dried thoroughly so that they do not mold.

If you live in a warmer location, cockscomb, Victoria blue salvia, and globe amaranth all thrive in zone seven through 10. Cockscomb takes it name from its appearance, which does indeed resemble the deep red to purple comb of a rooster. Victoria blue salvia makes tall stems of delicate purple blooms, while globe amaranth produces clover like flowers in a wide range of colors. These plants also hold color well when dried, making them excellent choices for bright and colorful arrangements.

All of the above flowers handle drying well, whether they are air dried or dried in a desiccant. Additional blooms can be pressed, a more forgiving technique for drying flowers. Remember to save seeds when drying flowers so that you can plant them again next year, and keep your arrangements in a dry place so that they do not mold or rot. In addition, you should keep dried flowers out of direct sunlight: all the energy spent drying flowers will be wasted if they fade and lose scent.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Share All sharing options for: 15 Fast-Growing Flowers for a Cutting Garden

Say It With Flowers

Nothing beats fresh-cut flower arrangements. But, forget having expensive floral arrangements delivered. Instead, gift fast-growing plants—or start your very own cutting flower garden—and there'll be no shortage of hand-tied backyard bouquets this season. Aside from saving your money on pro arrangements, many vase-ready growers are low maintenance and drought tolerant. Some even draw butterflies and birds, while others deter pests. Not a harvester? These fast-growing flowers are also great for filling bare spots in the garden left by winter. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!

Calendula officinalis

Photo by Andre Karwath- GNU

This annual can grow to about 30 inches and features bright green foliage, sturdy stems, and 3-inch blooms. It's available in a range of citrusy colors, from light yellow to bright orange, some with dark centers and others with centers that match the bloom. USDA Zones 4-11

TOH Tip: Like French marigolds, these can be planted in vegetable gardens to deter pests. Unlike French marigolds, this plant is effective at relieving certain insect stings. Its leaves can also be used in stews.

Cosmos bipinnatus

These long-stemmed garden annuals can grow up to six feet tall, thriving in even poor soil. They feature fine, sprig-like foliage and blooms that are up to three inches across. They're available in reds, whites, pinks, and purples and are a favorite in butterfly gardens. USDA Zones 5-10

TOHTip: Don't use large doses of fertilizer on this, as it will suppress blooms.

Tithonia rotundiflora

Photo by Derek Ramsey GNU

These annuals can grow up to 6 feet with 3-inch, bright red-orange blooms. They feature deep green, coarse foliage and multiple stems per plant. Mexican sunflowers can complete two generations in a single summer, attracting butterflies and skippers to your garden in the process. Give this plant some room: a single planting can grow into a 4-foot-wide cluster. USDA Zones 4-10

TOH Tip: Flower stems are hollow and fragile. To prevent accidental bends and breaks when cutting, use an especially sharp tool.

Iris pseudacorus

This perennial features gray-green sword-shaped leaves and large yellow blooms that can measure up to 4 inches across. They can grow as tall as 4 feet and can feature four or more early spring-blooms on each stalk. Yellow flag could spread in a wetland area, but those grown in dry areas will likely be smaller and spread less. USDA Zones 4-9

TOH Tip: Check with a local garden center professional before planting this, as the plant may be considered invasive in some areas.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii

This perennial can grow to 3 feet and features numerous blooms atop branched stems. The plant features lance-shaped, deep green leaves. Blooms measure about 3 inches across. Plants spread and form large clumps, with up to 20 bright flowers per plant. These will bloom all summer long, and cutting will encourage new blooms. Black-eyed Susan is also a deer repellant. USDA Zones 3-9

TOH Tip: You can divide clumps in early fall to get more bloom for your buck from season to season.

Antirrhinum majus

This annual can grow from about 8 inches to 3 feet, depending on variety. Snapdragons feature small tubular blooms in a range of colors. They're available in hundreds of cultivars and in just about every color except true blue and black. USDA Zones 4-11

TOH Tip: Snapdragons don't care for heat plant in the winter in zones 9-11

Echinacea purpurea

This perennial can grow into clumps 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Blossoms can measure up to 3 inches across and plants feature dark green, coarse foliage. Large purplish-brown centers are skirted by lavender to purple petals. This plant will draw butterflies all summer, is drought-tolerant, and pest and disease resistant. USDA Zone 3-9

TOH Tip: This is the plant immunity-boosting that Echinacea is derived from. You can pick and dry these to add to a tea recipe.

Tagetes spp.

There are hundreds of marigold varieties to choose from French marigolds (Tagetes patula, shown here) can grow to 12 inches with 2 inch blooms. Other varieties can grow up to 3 feet and have 3 inch blooms. The dense, continuously-blooming flowers are available in yellows, oranges, and bronze shades and feature dark green foliage. USDA Zones 9-11

TOH Tip: Consider planting these in your vegetable garden, as they deter a number of pests. Similarly, nasturitum can be planted around vegetable gardens as "aphid lures," drawing the pests to them instead of vegetable plants

Papaver somniferum

Though the scarlet variety of this upright annual is best known, poppies come in over 70 varieties and a range of colors including white, pink, and mauve. Flowers can grow up to 4 feet and feature blue-green foliage. The bowl-shaped blooms can measure up to 4 inches across. USDA Zones 7-10

TOH Tip: Poppies should be cut just before flowers open. You can prolong the life of cut flowers by cauterizing stems just hold the tip of each stem in the flame of a candle for a few seconds, then place in water.

Monarda punctata

This multi-branched perennial can grow to 4 feet. It features lance-shaped leaves and up to seven small pink to lavender bracts and pale yellow flowers per branch. Horsemint attracts butterflies to the garden and makes great filler for cut arrangements. USDA Zones 5-10

TOH Tip: This plant's foliage has the aroma of oregano and can be dried for homemade air fresheners.

Salvia 'Indigo Spires'

This perennial butterfly magnet can grow up to 5 feet tall and into clusters spanning 5 feet wide or more. They feature small blue-violet blooms along about a foot of its length and long, coarsely-toothed foliage. USDA Zones 7-11

TOH Tip: In the garden these may need regular pruning, as they tend to grow until they fall under their own weight. This habit, of course, makes them all the more appropriate for your cutting garden.

Coreopsis tinctoria

Photo by Cory Maylett- GNU

Add interest to floral arrangements with this wildflower. The annual coreopsis can grow to 4 feet with flowers that measure about 2 inches across. Each stem features multiple branches and blooms, purple center discs with bright yellow-tipped petals. The drought-tolerant plant will bloom through autumn, drawing birds and butterflies to the garden. USDA Zones 4-10

TOH Tip: Deadhead regularly for successive flowering between cutting for indoor arrangements. Cut these when flowers are almost fully opened.

Chrysanthemum hybrids

Mums are available in a variety of bloom shapes, including the Pompons shown here. Colors range from burgundy to oranges to lavenders and pinks to white. Some varieties are low and spreading while others can grow up to 5 feet. The easy-care plants aren't prone to disease and are widely, consistently available. USDA Zones 5-9

TOH Tip:Since mums are durable, readily available plants, consider planting in all of its forms, including ball-shaped pompons, the spider variety with long tubular petals, the spoon variety with interesting spoon-shaped petals, and colorful daisy-like single varieties, among others.

Verbena bonariensis

Photo by Frank Wouters- CC

This perennial (grown as an annual in colder climes) features quarter-inch purple flowers atop stiff, coarse stems. It can grow to about 6 feet and into clumps about 3 feet wide. It'll bloom all summer long and is fairly drought-tolerant. USDA Zones 7-11

TOH Tip: If you want to encourage branching, pinch the first shoots in the spring.

Tropaeolum speciosum

This cultivar of Tropaeolum majus features large, round leaves with blooms that measure 2 inches across. It thrives in poor soil growing to about a foot tall heavy watering will result in lots of foliage and little to no blooms. Nasturtium's non-toxic nature, large seeds, and rapid growth make it a great starter plant for kids to arrange and gift themselves. It also draws hummingbirds. USDA Zones 4-11

TOH Tip: This plant is edible. It has a peppery taste and can be used in salads.

5. King protea

Protea cynaroides, also known as king protea, are an iconic plant of South Africa and have a distinctive wide, bowl-shaped pink flower heads that can reach up to 30cm in diameter. For best results, display the dried king protea in a vase with other dried flowers and grasses.

How to Dry Everlasting Flowers

I am very unscientific with my drying technique, and so far it has worked out well. Here’s what I do to dry everlasting flowers.

  1. Pick flowers early in the day, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day.
  2. Look for buds and pods that are just beginning to open. Fully mature flowers may lose their petals or color as they dry.
  3. Strip the leaves from the stems. Cut the stems to a desired length (at least six inches long).
  4. Bundle in bouquets that are loose enough for some air to move through (about -12-20 stems per bundle, depending on size.) Secure with a rubber band or ribbon.
  5. Hang upside down in a dry and warm location out of direct sunlight (attics work, but basements typically are too wet – at least in our temperate rainforest climate).
  6. Flowers should be dry in about two to three weeks. I use paperclips and a hanger to maximize space and hang them directly from the beams.
  • Optional: Spray with non-scented hairspray.

There are other techniques for drying flowers out there. Drying flowers in borax or sand is one common technique. For more foliar pieces like Eucalyptus, Lantern Plant, and Bells of Ireland, you might want to experiment with glycerin. There are several great YouTube videos out there on using glycerin, so I won’t go into detail here, but it really does work (and requires a little work too, which is why I haven’t done it in years.)

Happy Flower Gardening! I hope you are inspired to enjoy this wonderful variety of flowers in your garden this year and in your home and crafts everlastingly! Find us at Thyme Garden Herb Company.

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Watch the video: How to Preserve Leaves comparing Glycerin Bath to other methods