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How do I dry flowers for winter enjoyment?
Many garden and wild flowers lend themselves well to drying. Here are three ways to dry them and a selection of flowers that dry well.
1. Air drying
Roses, nigella, `Silver King' artemisia, blue salvia, lamb's ear, plumed celosia, yarrow and statice are all good choices for air drying. Loosely bundle them and hang upside down in a warm, dark, dry place. Tying with rubber bands will help keep them together as stems shrink. Drying times will vary according to plant types and conditions. Good air circulation is important.
Other flowers that air dry well are strawflowers, gomphrena, physalis, grasses and grains, and pods and cones.
Pansies, Queen Anne's Lace, clematis, goldenrod, ivy, sweet pea and larkspur are wonderful to press. Shrub and tree foliages are also prime candidates. Sandwich material between two layers of newspaper or absorbent facial tissue, and weight your sample with heavy objects such as books. Periodically check them until drying is complete.
3. Chemical drying
A third type of preservation is done by using a desiccant, or drying agent. Silica gel, a chemical dehydrator, is the most convenient and is available at most hobby stores. This process is used for flowers that need support as they dry. Peonies, zinnias and lilies do well in this treatment, though it can be used with almost any flower. Place this sandy substance into a box large enough to prevent crowding of blossoms. Put 1/2 to 2 inches of material inside the bottom of the box, gently surrounding blossoms to cover. Seal with an airtight lid. The drying usually takes one week, and will continue until flowers are removed. To make your own desiccant, mix 1 part Borax with 3 parts cornmeal. Allow 4-6 weeks for drying to be successful.
4. Microwave drying
Follow the directions for chemical drying with silica gel. Place uncovered container in microwave oven. If using a cardboard box, elevate it on a microwavable drain rack so moisture can escape through the bottom. If microwave has settings from 2 to 10, put it on setting #4 (about 300 watts). A microwave with 3 or 4 settings should be put on "half" (about 350 watts). A microwave with a "high" and a "defrost" setting should be put on "defrost" (about 250 watts). There is a lo t of variation in microwaves and in the amount of moisture plants contain--it's difficult to predict how long the drying time should be. Go slowly--the drying time for one or more flowers/leaves in about 1/2 pound of silica gel is about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes; for about 2 pounds of silica gel, about 5 minutes. Let the box have standing time of 10 to 20 minutes. Then empty box gently on newspaper and carefully remove the flowers/leaves. Use a paint brush to remove grains of silica gel on fragile flowers. If stems and flower centers are still damp, cover those parts with silica gel and microwave for a short time on the same setting as before.