Preserve Fresh Cut Flowers Easily

Make summer flowers last. Our guide to easy drying methods.

The Basics

* When you dry flowers is key; cut garden blossoms at their color peak, in the midday sun. If you’re not preserving them immediately, place in a vase of cool water, in a dark location. Before drying, remove leaves.

* When sending florist or garden flowers to be freeze-dried, enjoy them for 2 to 3 days, then ship overnight. (You don’t want to dry tightly closed buds, or blooms past their prime.) Wrap stems in damp paper towels, put bouquet in a plastic bag, and mail in a well-cushioned box. (To reach Shanel’s Spring, in Campbell, CA, which preserved the bouquets for this story, call 408-378-8096.)

* Once they’re dried, keep arrangements out of sun, and avoid heat and extreme temperature changes. (Ultraviolet rays can fade blooms, and humidity makes them powdery.) To dust, use a blow-dryer on a low/cool setting.

Which Technique Works Best?

TheĀ  Chemistry Department tried out 4 popular drying procedures, testing each separately on a dozen red roses, an orchid corsage, and a mixed bouquet, which included larkspur, statice, baby’s breath, lemon leaves, and fern. Here, how-tos and results:

Air-drying involves a few steps. First, divide flowers into bunches. Remove leaves, and tie stems with twine, wire, or rubber bands. Hang bunches upside down in a warm, dry, dark area such as a closet, pantry, or attic.

Pros: It’s easy and free–who doesn’t have rubber bands?

Cons: The roses darkened a lot, and although they and the mixed bouquet dried within a week, the orchids took 24 days and were shriveled; their fresh yellow tint had faded to dreary brown.

Silica gel looks like white sand and is sold in garden centers. (We paid $9.25 for 1 1/2 pounds; it takes 3 pounds to dry 12 roses, but it can be reused.) Cover bottom of airtight container, such as a plastic sweater box, with a 1-inch layer of gel. Cut stems, put flowers on gel, and cover with more crystals. Tape lid.

Flowers are dry when petals feel papery. Check after 5 days, then every 2. Once they’re dry, carefully lift out blooms with a slotted spoon. If any crystals cling, remove with a blow-dryer set on low/cool, or a fine artist’s brush (brush gently).

Pros: This is the quickest method; samples dried in 5 to 7 days and were close to original color, roses darkened, but not as much as when air-dried.

Cons: The process is so swift, flowers can become brittle.

Cornmeal and borax are 2 household basics (borax is a laundry powder). Each costs about $1 per pound. Combine equal pares of them and place in an airtight container as above, covering flowers. Check every 3 days (petals feel papery when dry). Once they’re dry, gently remove powder from blossoms.

Pros: These looked better than air-dried flowers, though not as good as those treated with silica gel or freeze-dried. But because this method is slow (about 5 weeks for roses), the flowers are less fragile than those preserved more quickly.

Cons: Some foliage changed color-greenery browned slightly at the edges, and white orchids turned beige.

Freeze-drying calls for shipping flowers to a company that specializes in this service. Once flowers are open, they’re sprayed with a starch that sets the colors. Then they’re placed in a chamber at -10 [degrees] F. for 10 hours, until they’re frozen solid. Next, the air is pumped out of the chamber, and blooms are slowly brought back to room temperature over a 2–week period.

Pros: This is your best bet for flowers you want to cherish for awhile. They look most true to life and last longest (up to a couple of years). The shape doesn’t change, and we saw no wilting or shrinkage.

Cons: It’s expensive (about $5 per rose, plus shipping) and slow (3 to 8 weeks). Also, bouquets are very delicate and may be damaged en route.

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