I’m out in the garden these Dog Days of Summer cutting flowers to dry for wreaths and bouquets to brighten those endless gray, frigid days of the upcoming winter.
The heat of the season is perfect for air drying if you pick the right flowers and dry them in dark areas, like the trunk of your car.
I’m not kidding. Jim Long, of Long Creek Herb Farm, tells readers of his blog and books that a car trunk is perfect for flash-drying bundles of hydrangea and other large flowers.
He says to toss them in a car trunk, parked in the sun, for 24 hours to preserve color. They should dry to the “crinkling tissue paper” stage. That’s the sound their petals should make when you rub them.
My favorite to dry is ‘Limelight’, a lime green cone-shaped, mop-head type hydrangea. Dried in the car, they maintain their color. Photo courtesty of Proven Winners.
Another favorite is Eryngium or sea holly. I grow ‘Big Blue’, and the stems, plus the calyx and seed cones, are an electric blue that glows at dusk. The trick to retaining that color is to flash-dry them, too, in a hot car. Otherwise, the blue fades with time to almost a gray.
'Big Blue' sea holly glows as the sun sets. Its electric blue stems and flowers are gorgeous dried.
Look for flowers that have a small calyx and hold their petals tightly. Good candidates are: amaranth, artemisia, astilbe, baby’s breath, celosia, coneflower seed heads, gomphrena, herbs, hydrangea, lavender, lunaria, rose buds, salvia, sea holly, statice, strawflower and yarrow.
Lavender wands are easy to dry in jars or can be hung by the bunch in a dark, hot area.
How to Dry Flowers
Cut flowers and herbs after the sun has dried their leaves, and strip off all foliage from stems. Gather 8-10 flower stems together, secure them with a rubber band or twist tie, and hang the bundle upside down from a hook or coat hanger in a dark, dry area. Closets, attics and well-ventilated garages are ideal spots. In about two weeks, or even less, if the weather is hot, flowers will be completely dry. Some colors may fade, but most flowers retain their original hues.
Flowers with thin stems like strawflowers will need wiring, because their stems crumble when dried. Use florist wire or a 20-guage wire and push it through the center of the calyx, pull it out the other side and then twist wire strands together forming a long stem. Hang flowers to dry in the manner described above.
I also dry flowers in bottles and large vases. I assemble a number of vessels, cut the flowers and put them in a dark corner of the garage, where temperatures easily rise into the 90’s every day.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.