Preserving flowers and leaves can be a fun and simple garden craft project for nature lovers of all ages. There are different methods for preserving, depending on the type of plants you’re working with, what you are hoping to use them for when ready, personal preferences, and (of course) your time and patience.
Picking Plants (and Methods) for Preservation
It’s important to select 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. Preserve them shortly after cutting, while still 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.
Traditional Air Drying for Flowers and Herbs
Hanging to Naturally Air Dry
Many flowers and herbs can be dried simply by tying the stems and hanging them upside down to dehydrated naturally. Hang in a warm well-ventilated area out of direct light. Choose an area where you won’t be disturbing the hangings on a regular basis to minimise drop losses. Use a drop cloth if mess is an issue (or if you watch to catch every last bit).
Sturdy stems and blooms work best for hanging. Classic choices include lavender, roses, baby’s breath, straw flower, and statice. For something a little different, consider also experimenting with big blooms like hydrangea heads or less traditional but beautiful blooms, like echinops.
Be aware that air dried flowers will typically shrink and often fade or discolour during drying. Drying time varies with type and ambient conditions, but is typically several weeks. The dehydrator is my favourite method for accelerated air drying.
Spreading on a Screen to Naturally Air Dry
A perforated screen can also be used as a drying platform instead of hanging the stems. A screen is is better than laying things out on a newspaper or drop cloth since the air can circulate all around for better drying and less risk of rot or mildew. Perforated screens can be very handy when you have something to fragile to hang. It’s also handy for drying petals off stem or herbs that might crumble off the stem if handing to dry.
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 buying our dehydrator, this has become my favourite method for air-drying smaller batches of blossoms. It is very quick, the flowers retain a little bit more colour, overcomes our often humid weather (ill-suited to hang-drying). As a bonus, it makes the house smell AMAZING, especially when I dry fragrant flowers, like roses. The picture below is our demo DIY floral crown/wreath being dried.
Chemical desiccants, such as silica gel, can be used to dehydrate flowers in a closed air-tight container. It’s quicker than conventional air drying and slower than a dehydrator (unless you microwave the silica). The main appeal is that, if done carefully, the dried flowers are beautifully vibrant, well-shaped, and thoroughly dried. This could be a great feature if you are preserving something extra special. I haven’t used this method personally, but here is a thorough guide with visuals for drying flowers with silica gel.
Silica gel is expensive to buy and it would take you a very long time of saving little packets from packages to have enough (although they’re great for repurposing elsewhere – I use them with my camera gear, my stored seeds, old photos and collectables, stored documents, and such ). On the positive side, once you’ve made the investment, it can be dried and reused over and over again. Silica gel itself isn’t toxic, but it is an inhalation hazard so PPE is required during use. Some gels have toxic additives, so buyer and user beware.
Pressing Flowers and Leaves
Pressing flowers and foliage is a fun and favourite craft for all ages. It’s simple, inexpensive, and works for a wide variety of plant types. The finished pressings can be enjoyed as-is or used in a wide variety of crafts and creative projects.
How to Press Flowers and Leafs
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.
Pressing Tips and Tricks
- 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 mould.
- 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!
Update: I have a homemade wooden flower press now and I am so in love! It was crazy simple to DIY and I wish I’d done it much sooner. See the post for details on how it was constructed and finished, as well as tips for using a flower press. A great garden craft project!
Glycerine can be used to preserve flower and foliage from the inside by mixing a glycerine and water solution and allowing the cut stems to drink it instead of plain water. The preserved plants stay soft and supple to the touch, but may change or lose colour. Because of this, some methods add chemicals and/or colourants to the glycerine mix. Beware that some of these may be toxic to people or pets. Although very small amounts of glycerine may be ok, depending on quantity and ingredients, this form of preservation may also make the plants unsuitable for future composting.
Wax Preservation (Temporary)
To extend the display life of sturdier blooms and foliage, they can be dipped in wax. They’re look pretty for an extra few weeks, but it’s a messy project (take care with your fingers!). For most standard waxes, you also won’t be able to compost them afterwards.