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How to dry flowers and leaves—Four methods for preserving flowers and leaves

October 10, 2019

Anyone who knows me knows that I adore flowers. (My 7-year-old granddaughter conscientiously includes them in every drawing she does for me.) Tended in the garden or wild in the fields, fresh from the florist or picked by a child, gathered in a bouquet or pressed between glass—they all bring me joy. 

Now that summer’s over and the leaves are turning (“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower” —Albert Camus), I’m thinking about flower and leaf preservation. How great that a particularly pretty leaf or an especially meaningful flower can be kept—and kept beautifully. Have you tried drying flowers and leaves? It’s not hard; it’s fun! 

You have plenty of options. There are directions here for air drying, pressing, microwaving, and ironing. BTW, whichever method you choose, it’s a good idea to dry flowers before they fully mature and become more delicate and more likely to lose petals in the process. 

Air Drying

This method is great for bouquets and large flowers like hydrangeas. Before a recent move, I emptied a little closet full of bouquets and corsages that our daughter had hung to dry throughout high school and found they were still in great shape!

  1. Remove any extra leaves from the stems. (Leaves will dry, too, if you want to leave some on.)
  2. Tie the stems together (for a bouquet) or tie a string on each flower stem (if you want them dried separately or they’re large, such as the hydrangeas).
  3. Hang them upside down in a dry, dark area. (Light will cause them to fade.) I’ve used attics, otherwise empty closets, and basements (in the winter when they were at their driest). Tie them to rafters, clothing poles, curtain rods, hooks—anything that will allow air circulation around them. I often use clothing hangers and then hang those on poles or hooks.
  4. Leave to dry for about a month. 

Pressing

I’ve been pressing flowers and leaves since I was a little girl. It’s a great method for keepsakes and for making framed botanical artwork. You can press flowers and leaves in a book (It’s delightful to discover them years later if you forget about them!) or a press that’s made for the purpose. This method is best for flowers that lie flat and don’t have too much bulk to them. (If you have a big, fat rose, for example, you might choose another method or dry the petals instead of the entire flower.) Oh, and it’s the perfect method for gorgeous fall leaves!

Make sure the flowers aren’t wet to start with, or they might mold.

  1. Open a large, heavy book and place a piece of absorbent paper on the page. (This step isn’t necessary if you don’t care about the book pages wrinkling a bit. Even with the paper, the pages might wrinkle some, so choose a book for pressing purposes. (I think the slight wrinkling adds interesting character to an older book!) Parchment paper works, as do coffee filters. I’ve also used watercolor paper, construction paper, and paper towels. 
  2. Place the flower or leaf on the paper and close the book carefully and firmly. Try not to disrupt the botanical when you close the book, but you do want it firmly closed.
  3. Tuck the book away someplace where it won’t be disturbed. Place other books or something else heavy on top of the book. Or tie a belt or strap around the book to tighten the pages down. Leave it undisturbed for about a month. The flowers will feel papery when they’re dried. If they haven’t dried after a month, change the absorbent paper and put the book away for another couple of weeks.

If you have a flower press, the process is pretty much the same as for a book. Simply unscrew the top, lay the flowers carefully in the press on top of a piece of absorbent paper, and screw the top back onto the press. Set aside for a month or so.

Microwaving

You’ll need silica gel for this quick and easy method. Kitty litter and plain sand are also sometimes recommended, though they’re generally not considered as effective. (Don’t use silica sand, which has tiny particles that are dangerous if inhaled.)

  1. Remove extra leaves from the stems.
  2. Cover the bottom of a microwave container with a couple of inches of silica gel. (Use a container that you don’t use for food.)
  3. Place the flowers in the silica gel blossom side up. 
  4. Cover with another couple inches of silica gel. 
  5. Place the container in the microwave, along with a cup of water. Heat on a low setting for a minute. The timing will depend on the heat and your flowers. If they’re not dried in a minute, continue to heat in 30-second increments, until they’re dry. Smaller, open flowers will take just 1 to 2 minutes, while large, dense flowers will take a few minutes.
  6. Remove from the microwave. 
  7. Let the flowers sit in the container, covered with the silica, for 24 hours. 
  8. Using a soft paintbrush, brush the gel from the petals. 

Ironing

You can use a dry iron for pressing flowers and leaves if you work carefully and patiently. 

  1. Remove extra leaves from the flower stem.
  2. Sandwich your flower or leaf between two pieces of absorbent paper. Parchment paper works well — it can take the heat of the iron and will absorb some moisture from the flower.
  3. Using a dry iron (no water, no steam) set on low, press the iron onto the top paper and hold (still) for about 15 seconds. Remove. Let cool. 
  4. Repeat step 3 until the flower or leaf is dry.

No matter which method you use, once your flowers are dried, keep them out of sunlight and very hot areas, so they don’t further fade or deteriorate.

Enjoy the wonder of nature you’ve preserved!

Do you like dried flowers? What do you like to do with them? Frame them? Use them in vases or wreaths? Anybody still like potpourri? 

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