University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article


Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Your flower garden may be at its peak now, but it won't last. But, by making dried flower and plant arrangements, you can still enjoy the beauty of your garden long after the first frosts of autumn.

You can make original centerpieces of preserved flowers, leaves, berries, pods, or cones from materials collected now from gardens, woods, and meadows. When mounted in frames, panels of dried flowers or foliage make pretty gifts. Or create attractive stationery covers, bookmarks, place mats, and place cards with delicately preserved florets and ferns. Your imagination is your limit.

Because flowers and plant parts respond differently to drying and preserving methods, you may need to experiment for best results. However, regardless of the method, be sure to start with only top quality plants. Look for just-opened flowers with vigorous stems and no damage from pests.

Air drying is generally the best method to use for small flowers in clusters such as baby's breath, yarrow, and hydrangea as well as dock, goldenrod, grasses, sedges, and cattails. Tie these flowers in bunches and hang upside down for several weeks in a warm, dry place with good air circulation such as an attic or unused closet. Crops such as wheat, oats, and rye may be treated similarly along with many annual flowers such as strawflower or globe amaranth.

To dry flowers with thick heads like zinnias and roses, use a drying agent---borax, white cornmeal, silica gel (available at crafts shops), or washed, fine sand. The flowers are less likely to mildew and will hold their colors better.

Spread one of these drying agents about an inch thick in the bottom of an airtight container. Select blooms approximately the same size and type and remove the foliage and most of the stem. Place blooms on top of the layer, and cover completely with more drying agent. Seal the container and put in a cool, dark place.

In about a week's time, the flower petals will be dry and crisp. Gently pour off the agent and remove the dried flowers. To hold blooms upright in arrangements, use florist's wire.

To preserve woody stems of leaves and fruit, crush or split the ends, and place the bottom four to five inches of the basal stem in a glycerin mixture until the plant has a glossy appearance and leathery feel to all its leaves. To make the mixture, combine two parts water with one part glycerin (available at most drug stores), and blend thoroughly.

Summer flowers also can be preserved by pressing them between heavy books or bricks. But keep in mind that while orange and yellow blossoms will retain their vivid color, most blues, purples, and pinks will fade, and reds will turn a muddy brown.

Again, choose only perfect specimens. Lay each plant between two layers of paper towels or waxed paper (best for fine or delicate flowers), and put under a heavy, flat object such as a book. Place in a warm, dry place. It will take about four weeks to press the flowers but the enjoyment will last for months.

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