Preserving Flowers for Year-round Use

Horticulture & Gardening Home Page

Publication 482 - Also available in PDF form at http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/hortcult/flowers/prsvflwr.pdf
Clifford W. Collier, Jr., Extension Specialist, Landscape Architecture
Revised by John Jett, Extension Specialist, Horticulture

Preserving flowers for year-round use has been an artistic form of expression for decades and there are many methods by which flowers, foliage, grasses, seed pods, etc., may be preserved. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and only through practice, and trial and error will the individual discover the method that suits him best.

Hanging To Dry

Air drying is one of the easiest methods of preserving seed pods and flowers and involves no expense. Simply tie the flowers in loose bunches and hang upside down until they are dry. A warm, dark room is the best. One to three weeks may be required for complete drying.

Borax

The use of borax for preserving flowers has an advantage in that the flowers hold their shape and shrinkage is minimal. Generally the color of the flowers is assured except pinks and reds may vary. Time is of the essence, however. If the flowers remain in borax too long, they become brittle and lose their petals.

Generally, a mixture of half borax and half corn meal (white or yellow), sand or oat meal is recommended. The mixtures may be sifted and the borax used over and over. Some experts use a 1 to 5 and still others a 1 to 10 mixture. Experimenting will be necessary to suit individual techniques and preferences. Apply the same method as when sand is used. Lift the flowers from the borax mixture by gently running the hand under the flowers.

The individual must decide whether the flowers should be dried face-up, face-down, or horizontally. The form or shape of the flowers will determine the best method.

Drying face-up: Use a shallow box propped up over another carton about 8 inches high. Punch holes in the box large enough for the stems to go through and far enough apart that the flower heads do not touch. (The stems do not need to be very long as they may be lengthened by florist wire.)

Draw the flower stems through the holes, leaving the flowers face-up resting gently on the bottom of the top box. Sift the borax/meal mixture under and between all the petals and around each flower until it is completely, but lightly covered.

Drying facedown and horizontally: Cover the bottom of a box with an inch or more of the borax/meal mixture. Make little mounds in the mixture on which to place the flowers. Sift more meal and borax around the flower until it is covered. (Stems do not need to be covered.) Place only one layer in each box.

When the flower petals are dry, they may be removed from the mixture. Occasionally test one flower head to see how it is drying. When dry remove all the meal and borax with a soft brush.

Sand Drying

Fine white sand, such as that found on the seashore, is the best. Use a cardboard box with holes in the bottom. Cover the bottom with newspaper and place one-half inch of sand in the box. Place the flowers face-down, stems and foliage in the box

and cover with additional sand. 7 to 10 days will be required. Then punch holes in the bottom of the box and let the sand drain. Do not pull the flowers from the sand as the petals and foliage may be destroyed.

Sand from the river and beach should be washed and baked in the oven until dry. This should be done twice. Fine builders sand is cheap and may be used without additional preparation.

Glycerin

For foliage: a mixture of 1 part glycerin and 2 parts water is generally recommended. Heat the water and then add the glycerin. Place the stems in the hot mixture for quicker results. Branches may be any length. Pull back the bark and crush the base of the stems about 4 to 6 inches. Place the branch ends in the solution 4 to 6 inches deep as soon as they are cut. Branches should be allowed to remain in the solution 2 to 6 weeks. The foliage should then last indefinitely.

Most foliage preserved by glycerin will turn brown but will remain pliable. Some leaves if cut green will retain their color if they are removed from the glycerin within 24 to 36 hours. Cake coloring may be added to the solution to obtain a green, red-brown or yellow-brown color.

Pressing

Placing fragile flowers and foliage between layers of newspapers and weighting to keep them flat is the best method, since newspapers are very absorbent.

Another method of pressing to maintain a natural look is to collect branches at their peak of color and place them face down on five or six thicknesses of newspapers. Cover with the same amount of newspapers. Do not use too much weight but only enough to hold the papers and branches in place. Leave for 5 to 10 days. The foliage should last indefinitely.

Oven Drying

Place one inch of sand in the bottom of a shallow pan and place the flowers on the sand. Completely cover the plants with additional sand and place in an oven one to two hours. The oven should be set at its lowest reading.

Shellacking

Shellac is used to hold berries and seed pods to their branches and twigs. The shellac may be applied with a brush or spray or dipped into the shellac and then hung to dry. Clear shellac thinned with denatured alcohol gives the best results.

Commercial Preparations

There are special preparations such as Flower-Dri, especially made for drying flowers. These are generally sand-like materials with a great moisture absorbing capacity. Although they are expensive, most experts consider these materials the best to use as the drying process is fast and the natural colors are preserved.

Other Methods

There are many other materials that may be used for drying flowers such as using detergents. They may be used alone or mixed with corn meal at the rate of 1 part detergent and 2 parts corn meal. Kitty litter is also very absorbent and light in weight and may be used by applying the same techniques used for sand or borax methods of drying.

There are many other materials that may be used and each individual may want to experiment with using materials around the home. Their only requirement is that they be very absorbent, such as blotters or paper towels.

Although it sounds odd, sometimes plants may be dried in water. The tip end of the stem is crushed and placed in about one inch of water. The branch or stem remains in the container until the water evaporates.

Tips For Collecting Material

A wealth of material for drying exists around the home, in parks, and along roadsides. They may be cultivated flowers or those considered as weeds. Each will have a particular characteristic which will qualify them for use in dried arrangements.

1. Keep alert to materials the year around.
2. Look for varying shapes, colors and textures. Be especially aware of unusual shapes or curved lines.
3. Obtain flowers at different stages of growth and bloom; that is, some while still in bud from partially open and those in full flower. (Flowers dry best when cut at the peak of bloom.)

General Tips On Drying

  1. Begin drying plants immediately after cutting. Do not put them into water unless they must be kept fresh in transit.
  2. Be sure all moisture is removed from drying agent before using.
  3. Pick flowers and foliage when they are dry. Do not pick after a rain or when dew is on the plant.
  4. Flowers being dried should be kept in an air tight container.
  5. Store dried material in a dark, dry, air tight container. A plastic spray makes material resistant to moisture as well as minimizes the possibility of their coming apart.
  6. Wire flowers before drying.
  7. Do not dry or store flowers in the sun because they will lose their color.
  8. When using borax, sand, detergents, or commercial preparations and drying the flowers face-down, insert a long pin, such as an upholstery or corsage pin, through the center of the flower. The head of the pin should rest gently on the bottom of the box, extending through the drying medium. This will keep the flowers from having a flat appearance.

List of Plants and Treatments

Below is a list of plants which may be preserved and the recommended treatments for each. This list is by no means complete but it does give instructions on how some specific plants may be treated and can serve as a guide for preserving similar plants not listed. These are not the only methods but are the methods used by those experienced in preserving flowers. It should be noted that the plants are listed according to the names by which they are most commonly known, whether they are common or botanical names.

Plant

Treatment

Remarks

Ageratum Borax - 4 days; Commercial preparation  
Althaea Seed pods: hang to dry Cut when green
Apple Foliage: glycerin - 4 to 7 days Watch continually
Anemone Sand Fragile; handle with care
Asters Borax - Singles - 5 days; Doubles - 10 days  
Astilbe Borax - 4 days; Hang to dry  
Baby’s Breath Hang to dry  
Baptisia Foliage: glycerin - 6 days; Flowers: hang to dry; Pods: shellac  
Barberry (B. julianne) Glycerin - 4 days Turns a warm brown; remove thorns before treatment
Bayberry Foliage: glycerin - 4 days  
Bells of Ireland Borax - 4 days; Hang to dry; Glycerin - 2 to 3 days Cut when lower bells begin to turn; turns ivory to brown when dried. Remove corallas and leaves; run Elmer’s glue along stalk before drying; remove immature tips as they may shrivel; Green cake coloring added to glycerin will keep greenness
Beech Foliage: glycerin - 3 to 10 days Length of treatment will depend on color preferred–they change from green to brown; treat after leaves start to turn for lighter shade; cut green and remove from glycerin in 24 to 36 hours and foliage will remain green
Bittersweet Berries: shellac Should be dried in water to prevent excessive shrinkage and to keep longer. Shellac improves their appearance.
Black-eyed Susan Sand  
Bleeding Heart Foliage: press  
Blackberry Lily Fruit: shellac; Hang to dry; Flowers: borax, sand  
Boxwood Glycerin - 4 days; Upright in water  
Butterfly Weed Sand Difficult to dry; interesting seed pods
Carnations Commercial preparation Difficult to dry
Castor Beans Stalks & seed pod: hang to dry A light coat of shellac will aid in securing the pods to the stems. Foliage may be sheared to give an oriental appearance; dry in tops of mason jars.
Cattails Hang to dry - 1 to 3 weeks Spray with shellac or hair lacquer; let dry on stems and cut later
Chinese Lantern Hang to dry If picked green, they will remain green
Chrysanthemums Sand; Borax - 7 to 10 days Not all chrysanthemums are satisfactory for drying
Christmas Rose Borax - 5 days Wire stems before drying
Clematis (C. paniculata) Flowers: borax - 5 days; Seed pods: glycerin - 24 hours or stand up to dry Large flowers are difficult to treat; glue petals to stem before drying; Seed pods are most interesting
Clover (red) Hang to dry  
Cockscomb Hang to dry - 1 to 3 weeks If damp, stand upright to dry then hang upside down in dark location; keep out of light after drying
Coleus Borax - 5 days  
Columbine Hang to dry Cut when green
Coneflower Sand  
Coral Bells Flowers: borax or press Wild varieties are the most desirable
Cornflower (small) Borax - 5 days  
Corn Hang ears to dry; Tassel: cut when dry; Pick when mature and pull back husks; pick from corn stalk when dry
Daffodils Borax - 3 days average Remove stems when treating; store in de-moist crystals
Daisies Upside down in borax; Field daisy - 3 days; Shasta - 6 days; Gloriosa - 5 days; Gerber - 5 days Cone-like center of flower may be used after drying
Dahlias Borax: small flowers - 5 days; large flowers - 10 days Place shredded waxed paper between some of the petals; use corsage pins if dried face-down
Delphinium Sand: Borax - spikes, 5 days; florets, 3 days  
Dogwood Bracts: borax - 4 days; Foliage: glycerin - 7 to 10 days;  
Dock Hang to dry or pick dry Changes color in different stages of growth
Dusty Miller Hang to dry Pick in September
Euonymus Foliage: glycerin; E. elatus - 5 days; Others - longer; Berries - shellac  
False Dragon Head Borax - 3 to 5 days; Hang to dry  
Ferns Press For curves lay on a flat surface and let dry naturally
Fennel Hang to dry Bright green and feathery
Feverfew Borax - 3 days Dry upside-down
Firethorn Berries: dry in water; shellac Remove foliage when treating
Forsythia Foliage: glycerin; Flowers: borax Turns light to dark brown or purple-red
Gardenia Foliage; glycerin Turns an attractive black
Gladiolus Sand; Commercial preparation  
Globe thistle Hang to dry Cut before bracts have fully opened; allow some foliage to remain on the stem
Goldenrod Hang to dry - 1 to 3 weeks; Dry in water Pick before upper florets open
Gourds Dry in open mesh bag or sieve, turning occasionally Pick before frost when stems turn brown; leave part of stem on gourd
Grains - (wheats, oats, rye, etc.) Hang to dry - 1 to 3 weeks  
Grasses Hang to dry - 1 to 3 weeks May be picked dry
Hedge apple Fruit: oven dry; Air dry Pick when green - slice like a tomato; will turn brown when dried in an oven; if hung in a warm location it will remain green when drying
Hollyhocks Borax - 6 days Becomes transparent - experiment
Honesty Hang to dry Allow to dry before removing outer covering of silver discs
Huckleberry Foliage: glycerin - 7 to 10 days  
Hydrangea Hang to dry - 1 to 3 weeks; Borax - 4 days; Cat Litter - 6 days; Pick when dry Peegee - pick in September; Hills of Snow - July; Pink and blue florists type -August; or when blooms are cured on bush;Oak Leaf - May or early June
Iris Seed pods: shellac  
Juniper Glycerin - 7 to 10 days  
Lantana Borax - 3 to 5 days Colors may change
Larkspur Hang to dry; Borax - 4 days  
Laurel Glycerin - 10 days  
Leucothoe Glycerin - 10 days  
Ligustrum Glycerin - 7 to 10 days, maybe longer  
Lilac Hang to dry; Borax - 3 weeks  
Lily Seed pods: pull when dry  
Lily of the Valley Flower: borax - 3 days; Foliage: oven dry Clean the foliage and bake in an oven at 250 for 15 minutes
Magnolia Leaves: glycerin - 10 days to 6 weeks; Flowers: borax - upside down; Seed pods: shellac Pick flowers in buds
Mountain Ash Fruit: hang to dry  
Marigold Borax - 7 to 10 days; Hang to dry Remove stems
Milkweed Hang to dry Cut when pale green and remove silk
+ Mullein Rosettes: dry upright in jars Place shredded paper between layers of leaves; very brittle after drying
Okra Hang to dry Cut before frost
Paulowiana Tree Hang to dry Seed pods: gather green and remove seed
+It has been reported that mullein and pampas grass may begin to char or burn when dried. Caution should be exercised when these plants are used in dried arrangements.
Pansy Press; Sand; Borax - 4 days Store in de-moist crystals
Passion Flower Borax - 8 days Interesting seed pods
Peony Borax - 5 days; Doubles - longer;  
Pear Foliage: glycerin - 7 days to 3 weeks May turn black, cut from tree when green
Pine Glycerin - 10 days Cut from tree when green
Polygonum Hang to dry Cut before maturing; remove foliage
Poppies Seed pods: hang to dry Cut green or dry
Poplar (white) Foliage: stand in a jar to dry; Press  
Queen Anne’s Lace Borax - 5 days Use hardware cloth over a box and drop stems through holes; leave until dry
Roses Hang to dry; Borax - 5 days; Sand; Commercial preparation (best) Red roses not too satisfactory; singles and semi-singles best; Best when buds are half-open; lay buds horizontally and open flowers face-up
Rose hips Shellac  
Rose of Sharon See Althaea  
Russian Olive Glycerin - 6 weeks Leaves turn golden on top
Salvia Borax - 4 days; Hang to dry Blue - fall blooms deeper in color; Red - turns pink or orange
Santolina Hang to dry Yellow flowers; silver or green foliage
Smoke Tree Flowers: hang to dry  
Snapdragons Florets: borax - 4 days Dry each separately; wire florets before drying: difficult to dry
Statice Hang to dry  
Stock Borax - 4 days  
Strawflower Hang to dry Cut when flowers are half-open
Sugar Cane Pods: hang to dry  
Sumac Seed pods: hang to dry  
Sweet Gum Hang to dry Gather seed balls in November
Sycamore Foliage: glycerin - 8 to 10 days Pods, pick when green
Tansy Hang to dry  
Teasel Dry upright in jars; Pick when dry Sandpaper to remove thorns
Thistle Dry upright in jars Sandpaper to remove thorns
Tulip Borax - 6 days; Commercial preparation; Pod: pick when dry Cut before fully open; use Elmer’s Glue to secure petals before drying
Tulip Tree Borax - dry face up Pick flowers in bud
Viburnums Foliage: glycerin - 3 to 5 days; Berries: shellac; Pick when dry  
Water Lily Borax - 10 days  
Yucca Leaves: glycerin - 5 to 7 days; Seed pods: hang to dry Pick pods before frost
Yarrow Borax - 5 days; Hang to dry; Pick when dry  
Zinnias Borax - 6 days; Dry upside down in mixture Remove stems: colors change: yellow, coral whites and greens dry best; reds are not as satisfactory.