Summer is when all of your hard work starts paying off. It brings you the "fruits of your labor"—literally. This is when you (if all went well) begin to see blooms on many of your plants and can start pulling fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs from your garden.
Of course your fruit and vegetables are great for eating and your cut flowers are great for decorating your house on the inside while your blooming plants beautify your yard. But you can also get creative in preserving your blooms and enjoy them longer.
In much the same way as canning your foods can give you a much longer enjoyment from your edible garden, drying and pressing your flowers can let you enjoy your blooms for a very long time.
Drying your blooms is easy but will take a little time, patience and the right place to store them.
There are numerous ways to dry flowers. We're going to touch on a few of our favorites here.
How to Air-Dry Flowers
Air-drying is probably one of the oldest and most effective ways to dry flowers. Though there are a few steps to air-drying, the basic premise is separating your plants and letting them dry in the open air. Air-drying works well for more robust flowers like roses and hydrangea (though water drying, which will be discussed below, is better for hydrangea). Air-drying also works well for plants like Baby's Breath and herbs.
Cut the stems of your flowers at least six inches long (longer stems are easier to work with). Strip off all excess leaves/foliage.
If you're drying hydrangea blooms you will probably want to do one or two by themselves, however, most plants can be gathered into groups (like a bouquet) tied together at the bottom of the stems using string, dental floss, a rubber band, etc. Unless you're drying a bouquet that is already together, you will probably have better results if you separate your bundles into like plants. If you're drying a bouquet that was pre-arranged and separating them can be done without damaging the individual plants, you should still separate them and hang in groups of like plants. You can put your arrangement together when all of the plants have dried.
Using string, wire, prefabricated hooks, etc. hang the plants upside down from a hook, rod, or some form of edge in a dark, dry room with good air flow like a garage, utility room or closet. Attaching several of the upside down hanging bundles to a coat hanger creates easy to hang groups.
Keep the drying plants out of the light as much as possible. The less light they encounter the better they will retain their color.
Let the bundles hang for two to four weeks until they are completely dry. Avoid touching the plants while they're drying to minimize discoloration and the loss of leaves and/or petals.
When the plants are dried, separate the individual plants from their bundles and spray with hairspray or Dried Floral Preservative (available at many hobby stores) to help strengthen the leaves and petals and maintain their color longer.
Dry Your Flowers With Silica Gel
If you've never used it, silica gel works really well for drying plants (and wet electronics).
Silica gel is formed into little translucent BB sized pellets that absorb moisture. A good brand is Dri Splendor™. The instructions on the resealable bag are easy to follow:
MICROWAVE: Select a microwave-safe container that can hold the floral. Cover container bottom with 1/2 inch silica gel. Separate flowers in silica gel face up. Cover flowers with silica gel. Using medium setting, microwave for two minutes. Let cool. If flowers not completely dry, microwave for one minute increments until dry. Carefully remove flowers. Silica gel can be poured back into bag for reuse.
NON-MICROWAVE: Follow steps above. Instead of microwave, place in air-tight container for a week. "Indicating crystals" are blue crystals. When these blue crystals turn pink, your silica gel has reached its maximum moisture absorption. You can "re-dry" your crystals by placing them in a pan in an oven at 250 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Moisture is removed from them turning the indicating crystals back to blue.
Drying Perennial Hibiscus
A few years ago I decided to attempt drying our large perennial hibiscus (some with blooms 13 inches across). I used two different methods, air-dry with silica gel and pressing.
After numerous attempts using silica gel to dry the flowers I finally had to give up and move onto other methods. The gel worked incredibly well in drying the plants, and I was nearly successful several times, but ultimately the petals were too thin and would tear like extremely delicate tissue paper as I removed them from the gel beads. Because I was attempting to capture the size of the blooms, I was using flowers that had matured too much. I might have had more success if I had used flowers that had just opened. Plus, the petals shrank as the flowers dried, so I lost the desired effect anyway.
Even though my attempt to dry the hibiscus with silica gel was unsuccessful, I was very impressed with how well it worked. Used on the right type of flower/plant silica gel is a great way to dry the plant quickly and retain a good bit of its color. I haven't tried drying a hydrangea with silica gel (yet), but since it's a strong plant, I suspect the gel would work well on the flower and probably hold a great deal of its color.
And, not too long after my experiments with silica gel, we learned that it worked well in removing moisture from a cell phone that had been dropped in water.
Pressing Flowers
Where using silica gel to air-dry my perennial hibiscus didn't work for me, pressing the blooms worked very well. Probably as long as there have been books, people have been pressing flowers in them. It's an easy concept—place your flower or delicate plant on a page in the middle of a book and close the book. After some time has passed, you get a nicely pressed decoration.
Of course, you don't want to try this with a nice book you wish to keep in good condition, but it works. And, of course, you don't have to use the pages of a book to press your flowers.
There are actually plant presses that people construct that work very well. Most use two sheets of plywood (or similar strong, flat surfaces) bound together with straps, rubber bands or even wing nuts run through holes on all four corners of the plywood to apply pressure to the flowers.
If you don't wish to build or buy a press for your flowers, it's easy enough to quickly put together a press using items around the house.
Even though we're using newspaper here, understand that it is possible (though unlikely) to get some staining on whatever objects are used. We don't recommend pressing your flowers on prized items.
Lay a sheet of newspaper (or several sheets if you prefer) on a smooth flat surface like a table or plywood. Most any non-glossy paper or wax paper should work if you can't find newsprint paper or newspaper. Place the flower you wish to press on the newspaper. If there iss room, you can do more than one on a layer, but don't let them overlay or touch. Cover the flowers with another sheet of newspaper.
If you wish to do more than one layer, you can place a sheet of plywood, cardboard, etc. between the layers, making sure each layer of flowers have a sheet of newspaper below and above them.
Once your plants and newspaper are in place, put heavy books or boxes on top. The book/box directly on top of the stack must be at least a little larger than the flowers being pressed. You may also use a piece of plywood (or equivalent) and place heavy objects evenly on top.
Optional: After one week, carefully switch out your newspaper with fresh, dry paper and reset your flower(s) to be pressed. This can speed up drying.
If you have tissue paper larger than the flower, you can put a piece under and over the flowers (between the newspaper) to help speed up drying. If you use tissue paper, switch it out when you refresh your newspaper.
Let the flowers press/dry for about 2 to 3 weeks (very small flowers might dry as quickly as one week).
One of the nicest devices I've seen for pressing flowers was the one we borrowed to press our perennial hibiscus. It was multiple sheets of plywood each cut into a two-foot square with a hole drilled in each corner. A long bolt ran through each of the holes and was topped with a wing nut. We used newspaper as directed above and tightened the wing nuts a little every day or two as the plants dried. If you find you enjoy pressing plants, I highly recommend building such a device.
Once you have a nicely dried, flattened flower/plant, they work great in frames and shadow boxes. I've also seen pressed plants used effectively to decorate homemade/craft candles (showing through the wax from inside the candle).
Microwaving your flowers
Since we mentioned microwaving with silica gel, it should probably be mentioned that you can use your microwave as a drying tool.
In much the same way that you can use the silica gel in the microwave to quickly dry your flowers, you may also use paper towels or cat litter.
If you use cat litter, follow the instructions for silica gel (cat litter should also work without the microwave in much the same way as silica gel—minus the pink/blue crystals).
If you use paper towels, put your flower between two paper towels and microwave on medium for about 2 minutes. If the flower is not dry, switch out the paper towels with fresh ones and microwave another minute. Continue until your flower is dry and then let it cool.
Water Drying Your Flowers
There are some plants that work best with water drying—a process most of us have probably done accidentally.
Drying Hydrangeas
The idea here is to slowly dry the plant to hold the color a little better and make the blooms a little less brittle. Though water drying might be good for other plants (with strong stems), the hydrangea benefits the greatest from this method.
Try to catch your blooms when they are at their peak—while they're changing colors and just before they start to go toward unwanted colors (most likely somewhere between August and October. You may want to test earlier blooms to see how they work for you. Letting the hydrangea bloom dry a little on the plant is going to give you the best control over the flower's color).
Cut the stems to about 12 to 18 inches long and remove any unwanted foliage.
Put the flowers in a vase filled with about 6 inches of water and place the vase in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Since these will actually work nicely as cut flowers, you can use them as decorations. Just make sure they are kept inside and away from windows.
Let the water evaporate. When the vase is dry, the flowers should be ready. Your plants should hold their color for several months.
Drying plants is as much trial and error as it is art or science. The fun is in trying—then enjoying the dried flowers that work.

Enjoy Your Flowers a Little Longer