Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Pressing, Dehydrating, and Preserving Flowers and Foliage


Traditional Air-Drying

Many flowers (and herbs) can be dried simply by tying the stems (remove any lower leaves) and hanging them in a warm well-ventilated area out of direct light to dehydrate naturally.  Drying time varies with type and ambient conditions, but is typically several weeks.  Air dried flowers will typically shrink and often fade or discolour during drying.
  • Sturdy stems and blooms work best. Classic choices include lavender, roses, baby's breath, straw flower, and statice, but consider also experimenting with big blooms like hydrangea heads or less traditional blossoms like echinops.
  • Pick an area when you won't be disturbing the plants on a regular basis to minimise drop losses. Use a drop cloth if mess is an issue (or if you watch to catch ever last bit!).

Accelerated Air-Drying (Dehydrating)

Traditional dehydration can be accelerated from weeks to mere hours in a dehydrator (or fan-forced oven at very low temperature). Since getting a food dehydrator, this has become my favourite method for air-drying smaller batches of blossoms. It is very quick, the flower retain a little bit more colour, overcomes our humid weather (ill-suited to hang-drying). As a bonus, it makes the house smell AMAZING, especially when I dry fragrant flowers , like roses.


Chemical Dehydration

Chemical desiccants, such as silica gel, can be used to dehydrate flowers in a closed air-tight container. I haven't used this method, but have heard it is a good option if you are trying to preserve something a little more delicate or retain colour. If you've tried it, let us know in the comments how it worked out for you.

Pressing

Place your flowers or leaves on a sheet of uncoated paper, taking care to arrange them as you wish the pressing to look, and layer another sheet of uncoated paper on top.  Place the paper-sandwich between some sheet of newsprint for extra absorption, and press under a heavy object (stack of books, heavy box, etc).   Pressing time varies with type and ambient conditions.  In my experiences, it is typically around a week for delicate petals but significantly longer for thicker blooms. 
  • Flat-faced flowers (e.g. pansies), fern fronds, and leaves are easy to press and are a great place to start learning and experimenting. They're also perfect for kids - readily available in most gardens and a very high chance of successful pressings.
  • If you love pressing or want to make a gift for a flower-loving friend, you can easily DIY a purpose-built press with two rectangles of wood drilled in alignment at the corners, fitted with long bolts with wingnuts.  Easy pressing, no weights required!
  • If you want perfect pressings, blotting paper, parchment paper or other art paper is a better choice than the more readily available paper towels which can transfer their textured patterns onto delicate petals and leaves.
  • If conditions are humid or you're pressing thick plants, you will need to change the paper every few days to avoid mold. 
  • I haven't experimented with accelerated pressing, but some folks use an iron or microwave as a pseudo-combo of accelerated drying and pressing. You can even buy special flower presses for your microwave

The most important element is picking the right plants for the task - some plants are far too delicate to withstand air-drying but are perfect for pressing, some retain shape and others shrivel, some retain colour whilst other fade into oblivion.  Experiment and discover what works (and doesn't) for you and your tastes.  If you are collecting your flowers and foliage, do it during dry weather if possible and preserve them as soon as possible after cutting whilst fresh.  Don't let a little past-best get you down either. For example, spray roses from the garden work wonderfully just as they are about to turn (double-duty dead-heading!) and potpourri is always an option for larger spent blooms. If preserving the remains of a flower arrangement, fresh is best but enjoy them while you can and do it just as they are starting to fade.

What are your favourite techniques?  What types of plants do you like to dry or press?  How do you like to use them afterwards?  Share a comment - we're always looking for new things to try!

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