ACES Publications

Author: Kerry Smith
PubID: ANR-1115
Title: Drying and Preserving Flowers and Plant Materials for Decorative Use
Pages: 7     Balance: 0
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Drying and Preserving Flowers and Plant Materials for Decorative Use

dried roses
Drying and preserving flowers and plant materials is a form of artistic expression that was very popular during the victorian age and is still very popular today. there are many reasons for preserving plant materials, whether your interest is in drying flowers from an arrangement that has special meaning or preserving beautiful cut flowers, foliage, ornamental grasses, and plant materials from the landscape or garden. dried flowers are used in arrangements, wreaths, swags, pressed art, and other decorations.

To improve your success with drying plant materials, and to enhance their longevity, refer to the following methods for drying plant materials.

Collecting Plant Materials

Plant materials should be collected at the most suitable time of the year for drying and preserving that specific plant part. in general, all plant materials should be collected when they are in peak condition. Plant parts can be harvested at different stages of development for variation in color, form, and texture. Flowers, for example, can be cut at the bud stage and at any later stages until just before full flower. Do not use flowers that have begun to fade.

Almost all plant materials can be dried—everything from flowers, foliage, and branches to seed pods, grains, cones, nuts, berries, and other fruits. One person's weed is another's treasure! some plant materials, however, are more "everlasting" than others, particularly if the best drying method is used to preserve the plant.

Other tips for collecting plant materials are as follows:

  • Avoid collecting plants when they are wet or moist from dew.
  • Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut flowers and plant materials.
  • Select plant materials that are without insect or disease problems.
  • Place stems in water while harvesting to prevent wilting. some flowers may hold color better if allowed to stand in water for a few hours. start the drying process as soon as possible after cutting.
  • Collect more plant materials than needed to allow for some loss.
  • Be mindful of where you collect plant materials; never remove unlawful or endangered plants.

Methods of Drying Plant Materials

Some plant materials are naturally dry and require little work to preserve them. most plants, however, must be either air-dried, pressed, or buried in a plant-drying mixture.

Naturally Dry Materials

Naturally dry materials include dry grasses, reeds, pine and other cones, and most seed pods. Dry materials should be harvested when they are still in good condition, usually in the fall at the end of their growing season but before they become weathered in appearance. You might prefer to pick pods before they open to prevent the messiness of shedding seeds. Cattails, especially, should be picked just as they first turn brown, while flowers are still visible at the top of the spike.
blue hydrangea

Usually, a little grooming is all that is necessary for naturally dry materials. However, cones and pods may need to be washed in water and a mild detergent. Fragile seed heads, such as those of pampas grass, as well as mature cattails, can be sprayed with hair spray or other aerosol lacquers or plastics to hold the heads in place and to prevent shattering as the plants age. Lacquers or shellac can be sprayed or painted on fruits and cones to give them a more shiny, decorative look as well as to helppreserve them. Remove seeds from pine cones to prevent shedding that may occur at a later time.


Air-drying is the easiest method of preserving flowers and plant materials. Many garden flowers and wild plants can be collected, tied together at the stem ends in loose bundles with rubber bands or pipe cleaners, and hung upside down in a warm, dry, dark area. With good air circulation, flowers take 1 to 3 weeks to dry completely. Large flower heads should be hung individually. Most flowers can be dried on their own stems; however, some flowers, such as the strawflower, have a weak stem. Snip flower heads from stems to use singly, or insert florist wire into flower and gently wrap around each stem for support.

Use the following tips to successfully air-dry plant materials:

  • Dry flowers in a warm, dry, dark area that has good air circulation for best results.
  • Remove all leaves from stems and branches.
  • Tie flowers in small bundles so that flower heads do not touch.
  • Hang flowers upside down, or lay them on drying racks or screens raised off the ground. For faster drying, try your car trunk during summer months. It matches all the criteria (warm, dry, dark). Be careful not to overdry your flowers.
  • Wait for flowers to completely dry, and then sort the plants by flower types and sizes, and store them in an airtight container until ready to use. Dried plant materials can be stored in cardboard boxes such as shoe boxes; however, plants are better protected from insects and rodents if stored in airtight containers. Table 1 lists flowers that are recommended for air drying.

Table 1. Flowers Recommended for Air-Drying

Astilbe Dusty-miller Hydrangea Santolina
Baptisia False-dragonhead Larkspur Smoketree
Baby's Breath Fennel Lilac Statice
Blackberry-Lily Gaillardia Marigold Strawflower
Calendula Globe thistle Milkweed Sumac
Cattails Goldenrod Okra Tansy
Chinese Lantern GomphrenaPaulownia Teasel
Chives (Globe Amaranth) Polygonum Thistle
Crimson Clover Grains Poppy (seed pods) Yarrow
Cockscomb Grasses (ornamental) Rose Xeranthemum
Dock Honesty (Money Plant) Salvia, Sages

Table 2. Flowers Recommended for Pressing

AgeratumCornflower, Bachelor'sHeatherPrimula
AlyssumbuttonHydrangeaQueen Anne's lace
AnemoneCosmosJohnny Jump-up, ViolaRose
AzaleaCrocusLarkspurSalvia, Sages
Bleeding heartDaffodilLily-of-the-valleyStatice
Butterfly weedDaisyMarigoldSweet Pea
Celosia, CockscombFernsNemesiaZinnia


Pressing is a method of preserving plants to use on pictures, stationery, place cards, etc. Most foliage and simple flowers with few petals press very well. Pansies are an excellent flower for pressing at all stages of flower development. Ferns make excellent pressed plants. Leaves and branches with foliage can be pressed to form plant materials with natural curve.

Pressing is done by placing plant materials between layers of an absorbent paper material and applying weight or pressure for at least 5 to 10 days or until the paper has absorbed all moisture. newspapers, telephone directories, blotter paper, or tissues are good papers to use. Plant presses are also available.

After the first week, check the paper for excess moisture, and replace the paper if necessary. Rreposition the flowers if needed. Table 2 lists flowers recommended for pressing.

Burying Flowers in Plant-Drying Mixtures

yellow daffodils
Flowers can also be dried by burying them in a plant-drying mixture. The drying agent in the mixture helps support the flower while removing moisture and preserving the flower's shape and form. The most common mixtures used are borax mixtures and silica gel.

Borax Mixtures

Borax detergent combined with cornmeal or sand is an inexpensive material for drying flowers. Although sand will work, cornmeal is a lighter material and is less likely to flatten flowers. Ratios of borax to cornmeal vary, depending on who you ask. Start with 1 part borax and add 1 to 10 parts cornmeal. Using 1 or 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of mixture may help speed up the drying process.

Borax mixtures can be reused. to preserve the mixture for reuse, spread the mixture evenly in a shallow baking pan, and heat it at 250 degrees F for about 1 hour or until it is dry to the touch. Sstore the borax mixture in an airtight container until ready to use it again. Always wear a mask when stirring or handling this dusty mix.

Table 3. Flowers Recommended for Burying/Desiccant Drying

Ageratum Daffodil Lantana Queen Anne’s lace
Anemone Dahlia Larkspur Rose
Bells of Ireland Daisy Lilac Salvia
Black-eyed Susan Delphinium Lily-of-the-valley Snapdragon
Butterfly weed Dogwood Magnolia Stock
Carnation False-dragonhead Marigold Verbena
Chrysanthemum Feverfew Nierembergia Waterlily
Coleus Forsythia Pansy Yarrow
Coneflower Gladiolus Passionflower Zinnia
Coralbells Hollyhock Peony

Silica Gel

Silica gel is a fairly expensive moisture-absorbing chemical desiccant. It is an excellent product for drying flowers. It is lightweight, dries flowers faster than borax mixtures do, and can be used over and over again if dried properly.

Silica gel is sold under many different trade names and is available at most craft stores and at some garden supply stores and florists. It must be kept in an airtight container at all times. As silica gel absorbs moisture, the crystals in the gel change color. To dry silica gel for reuse, spread it in a shallow baking pan, and heat it at 250 degrees F for 1 hour.

Methods of Burying Flowers

After choosing a drying agent (desiccant), select a container that will fit the flower types and dessicant to be used. Flowers dried in borax mixtures should be left uncovered during the drying process to allow for good air circulation and faster drying. A shallow box can be lined with newspaper to strengthen the box. The box should be deep enough to allow the flowers to be covered completely. If drying flowers face down, it is not necessary to cover the stems, just the flower. Silica gel must be used in an airtight container. Plastic containers or tins with airtight lids are excellent choices.

queen anne lace
Flowers can be dried in one of three positions: faceup, facedown, or horizontally. Flat-faced flowers, such as daisies and coneflowers, dry well when placed facedown in the drying mixture. elongated, spike-type flowers should be dried horizontally. All other flower types can be dried faceup.

Some flowers should be wired before drying. Remove the natural stem, and use one of the following stem-wiring techniques. Flowers that have a small, soft center should be hook-wired. Using a 20- to 24-gauge florist wire, push the wire up through the center of the flower. Bend a small hook in the end of the wire, and pull it back into the flower head so that it cannot be seen. Flowers with hard centers, such as roses, should be cross-wired. Push a piece of florist wire through the base of the flower head at a right angle to the stem. bend both ends of the wire down around the flower base to form a stem. Wire stems can be bent out to the side as you bury the flowers in the drying mixture.

To bury the flower, place at least ½ to 1 inch of the drying mixture in the bottom of the container. Make small mounds of the mixture where flowers will be placed. Sift the drying mixture between and around the petals until the flowers are completely covered. It is generally easier to work with flowers when they are placed in one single layer per container. Place the flowers so that they do not touch.

Drying times vary depending on the flower thickness and the drying agent used. Silica gel requires 2 days for thin-textured flowers and 5 to 7 days for heavier-textured flowers. Borax mixtures generally require from 5 days to 3 weeks, depending on the flower texture. Do not keep the flowers in the drying agent for too long. Petals will become brittle, and some flower color may be lost if the flowers dry too long.

When flowers are thoroughly dry, remove them by gently sliding your fingers under the flowers and lifting. As you lift the flowers, gently shake off the loose mixture, and brush excess material from the petals, using a soft-bristled paint brush (remember to wear a mask).

Flowers that easily shatter or drop their petals are unsuitable for drying. For some ray-type flowers, applying a drop of clear glue may help prevent shattering after they are dried. table 3 lists flowers recommended for burying or dessicant drying.

Preserving Using Glycerin

Some foliage can be preserved using glycerin, which is available at drug stores. Glycerin will not preserve the green color, but the foliage will retain its soft, pliable feel and can be painted or used naturally in arrangements. Foliage preserved with glycerin can be wiped or cleaned and will last indefinitely. The time to pick foliage to preserve using glycerin is in the middle of the plant's growing season and in early morning when fully hydrated. Follow these steps to preserve foliage, using glycerin:

1. Remove damaged or withered leaves, and prune the foliage as desired for end use.

2. Make sure to have a fresh cut stem just as you are placing stems in glycerine mixture.

3. Mix 1 part glycerin to 2 parts water, and heat the mixture to near-boiling.

4. Pour the mixture into a heavy container that will not tip over, being sure to use enough to cover several inches of the stem.

5. Stand the branches upright in the solution.

6. Check the branches often, and add water to keep the solution several inches up on the stem. (The solution does not have to be reheated.)

7. Allow the branches to absorb the solution for 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the texture and size of the leaves and branches. This method is somewhat unpredictable. You may have to experiment with different plant species to determine the exact length of time required.

As the branches are preserved, the leaves will change color from glossy green-brown to black or gold, depending on the species. The preserving process is complete when all the leaf parts have changed color.

Before using or arranging the branches, wipe away any excess fluids that seep from the leaves. These fluids may stain or damage surfaces.

To preserve single leaves or vines, use a 1:1 solution of water and glycerin, and completely submerse the plant material, and leave it until the leaves have changed color, usually 2 to 3 weeks.

Plants Recommended for Preserving in Glycerin

Aspidistra (Aspidistra elatior)

Beech (Fagus grandifolia)


Elaeagnus (Elaeagnus pungens)

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus gunnii)


Holly (Ilex spp.)

Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)


Leucothoe (Leucothoe spp.)


Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Mahonia spp.


Nandina (Nandina domestica)


Oleander (Nerium oleander)

Osmanthus (Osmanthus spp.)

Pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira)

Viburnum spp.

bunch of dried flowers

Foliages and Fruits for Decorative Use

The following is a list of plants you can grow to use in arrangements or for decorations. Heavy pruning of these landscape plants will make larger quantities of these foliages available for use at certain times of the year.
Scientific Name Common Name Landscape Use and Size Decorative Use
Aspidistra elatior Common AspidistraBorder, 15 to 20 inches L Line and tailoring all year
Aucuba japonica Japanese AucubaFoundation, 4 to 15 feet Mass, all year
Berberis mentorensis Mentor BarberryFoundation, hedge, border, 7 feet Line, summer, fall, winter
Buxus sempervirens American BoxwoodFoundation, hedge, border, 10 feet Mass, corsage
Callicarpa americana American Beautyberry (Purple balls of fruit)Border, 10 feet Line when in fruit in early fall
Ternstroemia gymnanthera (Cleyera japonica) Japanese CleyeraCorner or border, 15 feet Line and mass all year
Cytisus scoparius Scotch BroomBorder, 6 feet L Line, all year, yellow flowers in spring
Elaeagnus pungens Yellowedge thorny ElaeagnusCorner or border, 8 to 12 feet Line and mass all year, corsage foliage
Eriobotyra japonica LoquatSmall tree, 10 to 25 feet Mass all year, effective for tailoring
Euonymus japonicus Goldspot Evergreen EuonymusFoundation, 8 to 15 feet Line all year, corsage foliage
Feijoa sellowiana Pineapple GuavaBorder, 18 feet Line all year
Ilex cassine angustifolia Alabama DahoonFoundation or border, up to 36 feet Line all year, orange-red fruit in fall and winter
Ilex cornuta Chinese HollyCorner, hedge and border, 9 to 15 feet Line mass all year, red fruit in winter
Ilex cornuta (Burfordi) Burford Chinese HollyFoundation, border, hedge Line mass, red fruit in winter
Ilex vomitoria YauponBorder, hedge, foundation, 15 to 25 feet Line, red fruit in winter
Juniperus conferta Shore JuniperGround cover, 1 foot Line all year
Ligustrum lucidum Yellowleaf Glossy PrivetSmall tree up to 30 feet Line all year
Magnolia grandiflora Southern MagnoliaLarge tree, 50 to 75 feet Mass all year
Mahonia bealei Leatherleaf MahoniaFoundation, 4 to 6 feet Mass all year
Myrica cerifera Southern WaxmyrtleFoundation, border, small tree to 36 feet Line all year, Bayberry fragrance
Nandina domestica NandinaBorder entrance, 8 feet Line-filler, red fruit in fall and winter
Osmanthus americanus Devilwood OsmanthusBorders, screens, small tree, 15 to 40 feet Line, summer, fall, and winter
Photinia fraseri Birmingham Fraser PhotiniaSpecimen, screen, hedge, foundation, 15 to 20 feet Line mass, continual red, new growth if pruned frequently
Pittosporum tobira Tobira Pittosporum Foundation, border, hedge, screen, 8 to 14 feet Mass, all year
Prunus caroliniana Carolina Laurelcherry Small tree, corner, hedge, to 36 feet Line, background fall and winter
Prunus laurocerasus Common laurelcherry Corner, hedges, 18 feet Line mass, fall and winter
Pyracantha coccinea lalandei Laland Firethorn (orange fruit) Clipped screen and barrier, 18 feet Line, fall and winter
Smilax lanceolata Lanceleaf Greenbrier Vine Line mass, fall, winter, early spring
Viburnum rhytidophyllus Leatherleaf Viburnum Border, foundation, 10 feet Line mass, all year
Viburnum tomentosum Doublefile Viburnum Border, corner, 9 feet Line mass, summer and fall

ANR-1115 Web Only, Revised Oct 2011
Kerry Smith, Extension Home Grounds Specialist, Auburn University. Originally prepared by Mary Beth Musgrove, former Extension Associate.

For more information, contact your county Extension office. Visit or look in your telephone directory under your county's name to find contact information.

Published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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