Flowers, cut and dried How-to: To keep your garden blooms through the winter, you might want to give drying a try.

September 15, 1996|By Barbara Whitaker | Barbara Whitaker,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Sue Bunkin's fields are awash in color this time of year. Rainbows of flowers stretch across plots and paths.

This month, Bunkin, who dries flowers for her own use and for sale at craft shows, will have moved the show inside. Most of what will be strung on lines in her barn are "everlastings" -- flowers that are easy to dry. Strawflower, statice and globe amaranth are in this category.

When Bunkin began growing flowers to dry, she started with those. Her idea was to have something to remind her of summer throughout the year.

That was about 20 years ago -- before gardening had become such a popular pastime. Bunkin remembers looking through a couple of seed catalogs and finding a few types of flowers identified as good for drying.

"You had to search around," she said. "Most of the time you fell upon them accidentally."

Now catalogs from such companies as Park Seed, W. Atlee Burpee and Shepherd's devote entire pages to flowers that dry easily. Not only are there packages with seed varieties selected to make a complete garden of everlastings, but strawflowers, for example, can be bought by color. Some catalogs, like Burpee's, even provide directions for drying flowers.

A drying trend

Drying flowers is growing in popularity, said Susan Brandt, director of communications for the Hobby Industry Association, based in Parsippany, N.J.

While she had no precise figures, she said growing interest can be seen in the number of ways dried flowers are being used, from floral arrangements to potpourri to wreaths.

"I think it has got to do with this whole household movement," Brandt said. "You need not spend a lot of money to save and make something that's meaningful."

So how to proceed?

It's very simple. Cut the flowers you want to dry, strip the leaves from the stem, group the flowers in small bundles, tie them together near the base and hang the bouquet upside down in a cool, dry place with low light.

Some books suggest using a place where there is a current of warm air, but some experts argue that this method increases fungal growth. Proponents of the method stress that the warm air must be neither moist nor stagnant.

Stems should be cut to the same length and the bunches tied with a rubber band or string about one inch from the cut end. With string, it is helpful to use an overhand knot that can be tightened, because the stems will contract as they dry.

In the case of strawflowers, which have particularly brittle stems, professionals recommend removing the stem to about a quarter of an inch below the head and inserting floral wire into the head before drying.

Tricks of the trade

There are other tricks to help the process. Flowers should be cut just as they begin to open. For example, strawflowers dry best when cut just as the first two rows of petals have opened.

Flowers should also be cut when they have no surface dampness. Moisture can lead to mold and mildew and a change in color.

So if it looks like rain, Bunkin said, she'll harvest buds to dry.

"Better to have [them] too small than mildewed," she said.

Dampness also will affect the drying process, which could take from a week to a month to complete. The plants are finished drying when their stems are brittle.

For specimens more difficult to dry, a drying medium may be used. Sand (be sure it is very clean) is the cheapest. Mixtures such as borax and sand are also popular. More expensive silica gels are highly effective and can be used along with a microwave to speed the process to a couple of minutes.

The process is basically the same whether using sand or another drying medium. Place an inch or two of the drying material in the bottom of a container such as a shoe box, laying the flower in and spooning the substance gently over the top, getting between petals until the flower is covered by another inch or so. If you are using silica gel, place the container in a sealed polyethylene bag so outside moisture is not reabsorbed.

The fastest way to dry flowers is with silica gel and a microwave, but getting the process right can involve work.

Care must be taken that the flowers don't cook.

Prepare the flower in silica gel and put the container in the microwave (make sure it has no metal in it). Practice with a flower that is not in particularly good shape, but is the same size as what you intend to dry. Three minutes is a good estimate to start with, but times vary depending on the power of the microwave.

If that is not long enough, add a minute. Once the correct time is reached, try another imperfect flower of the same size. If the time works out again, try the flower selected for drying.

The flower is ready when it is dry to the touch and a little brittle.

If you want to use these more complicated methods of drying, it's best to get a book on the subject with precise information and tips for success.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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