By Matt Gibson
In the late fall and winter months, when the sky gets gray and the trees lose their color, when everything just seems drab and lifeless. During these times, it’s a good idea to brighten up your indoor spaces by making colorful bouquets out of dried flowers. Dried flower arrangements are a budget friendly hobby that can work wonders for your mood. There is a vast array of plants that are suitable for drying, and many of them dry exactly like they looked when they were alive, which makes them perfect for displaying in dried arrangements.
Though this may be your first time hearing about dried arrangements, the practice of using dried flowers in ornamental display is nothing new, and actually dates back to ancient greek and roman traditions, where dried flowers were used in wreaths, and laurels and even pinned to clothing and hair.
As a general rule, compositae flowers are not the best picks for drying, though there are some exceptions. Compositae flowers include daisies, asters, and sunflowers. The exceptions include some aster varieties, and teddy bear sunflowers. Flowers from the statice family tend to dry very well, as do most herbs, aside from basil and dill. Flowers from the family Umbelliferae are typically not good picks for drying, aside from Queen Anne’s Lace and Ammi Majus.
Tips for Drying and Harvesting Flowers
The best dried flowers come from healthy living flowers. Pick out the healthiest flowers in the garden for drying just before they reach maturation. Gather the best looking flowers together in small or medium size bundles and tie the ends with a rubber band. Hand your bundles in a cool, dry area with lots of air circulation and no direct light. The flowers should be fully dry in about two weeks in most cases.
Small flowers like pentzia or xeranthemum should be picked in bulk, as picking them individually and tying them by their stems is a waste of time. Instead, pull them up straight from their rows, leaves and all, and hang them up with the bundles. Don’t worry about removing leaves from the stems of your bundles. For flowers like yarrow and statice, take a few seconds to line up the heads when tying up their bundles to make the bundles look more professional. Don’t miss our flower meanings dictionary.
African Daisy (Osteospermum)
African daisies have a flatter bulb shape than regular daisies, which makes them better for pressings. Layer African daisies in rows between sheets of blotting paper and press them flat by laying books or bricks on top of them. African daisies that retain their shape look good in wreaths and arrangements as well. The Soprano African daisy cultivar is a good example of a flower with a flatter bulb shape. Learn more from our article How to Grow African Daisy Flowers.
African Marigold (Tagetes erecta)
African marigolds will actually dry out on the vine themselves, so wait until they are dry to harvest them and you don’t have to worry about hanging them upside down after harvesting them. Just gather them in bundles to store with the rest, or make them into arrangements right after harvesting. Learn more from the Cornell University profile on African marigold.
Amaranth (Amaranthus Cruentus)
Erect amaranth flower varieties can be dried vertically. Just place the stems into a glass, or a container that stands them upright and keep it in a dark, dry, cool location. For hanging amaranth flowers, dry them in bundles to straighten their stems. To keep the curvature of hanging amaranth varieties, dry them by laying them over a curved surface instead of hanging them in bundles. Learn more about upright amaranth flowers from our article How to Grow Amaranthus Cruentus.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Anise Hyssop flowers can be dried in bundles by hanging them upside down and keeping them in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight. Alternatively, these flowers can be dried quickly in the microwave by nuking them on high for one to three minutes. Check leaves for dryness after each minute and stop when the leaves have dried. Learn more from our article How to Grow Hyssop.
Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila)
When harvesting Baby’s Breath flowers for drying, choose the stems that have only half of the flowers open while the rest are closed buds. Make a final cut on the stems while running them under warm water. Then make bundles of five to seven flower stems each. Tie them up by their stems with a rubber band or piece of string and keep them in a cool, dark, dry location.
Learn more from our article How to Grow Baby’s Breath.
Bunny Tail Grass (Lagurus ovatus)
Drying bunny tail grass is no different from drying most flowers. Cut the stems down to similar sizes, tie them into bundles and hang them upside down to dry for several weeks in a cool, dry, dark location. In addition to being dried, however, bunny tail grass is often dyed as well, using simple food coloring as dye to add unusual colors to your dried arrangements.
Learn more from the American Meadows profile on bunny tail grass.
Cockscomb, or celosia, is another flower that looks excellent when dried, and is perfect for dried flower arrangements. Cockscomb can be air dried in bundles, left hanging upside down in small groups of five to seven flowers per bundle, in a dark, dry, cool location. The Dragon’s Breath cultivar is particularly handsome when dried, as it’s vivid, deep-red hue doesn’t fade too much from the drying process. Learn more from our article How to Grow Celosia (Cockscomb) Flowers.
Cress (Lepidium sativum)
Though it is not actually a flower, cress holds together really well when dried. Every good bouquet, whether dried or fresh, can benefit from some greens to add as filler and to mix things up a biit. Cress is perfect for this role. If you want to grow more greens that will help diversify your dried bouquets, look into ornamental grasses, as there are multiple grasses that dry looking fresh and young, just like cress. Learn more from the Utah State University Extension’s profile on garden cress.
Because of the flatter shape of coneflower’s lovely blooms, do not put them in bundles and hang upside down to dry them. Instead, coneflowers should be dried by spreading them out, flowers, stems, leaves and all, on drying screens in a dark, cool, well-ventilated area, like an attic or basement. Coneflowers usually only take five to seven days to dry out in the proper environment as long as they are spaced out appropriately so that each flower is separated from its neighbors so that they do not touch or overlap. Learn more from our article How to Grow Echinacea (Coneflowers).
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Due to their small size, cornflowers should be grouped together in bundles of about 20 flowers. Hang the large bundles upside down to dry in a dark, cool, dry location that gets good air circulation. Once they are dry, you have two choices of how to use your dried cornflowers. Either use the full flowers in dried arrangements, or strip the petals off of each flowerhead to make a flower confetti, which can be used for decoration, or as a colorful addition to DIY potpourri blends. Learn more from our article How to Grow Cornflower.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
Eucalyptus is another great choice for adding some greens for filler to provide some contrast to the colorful flowers in your dried arrangements. Eucalyptus will also add a nice minty aroma to your dried arrangements. Eucalyptus should be air dried in bundles like most of your other dried flowers and greens. Tie together eucalyptus stems in bundles of five to ten stems per bundle.
Learn more from our article How to Grow Eucalyptus Trees.
False Goat’s Beard (Astilbe)
Astilbe flowers are very easy to dry. Either hang in bundles upside down in a cool, dry, dark environment, or spread them out on racks or screens elevated off of the ground in a similar environment. Learn more from the American Meadows profile on astilbe.
Floss Flower (Ageratum)
Also known as the floss flower, ageratum’s pom pom-shaped blooms look great in dried arrangements. Ageratum flowers are usually lavender or blue, but you can also find blooms in white, pink, and red shades. The Stellar Blue cultivar is especially well-suited to drying.
Learn more in our article How to Grow Ageratum (Floss Flower).
Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)
To achieve the best results when drying out your globe amaranth flowers for dried arrangements, cut the flowers just after the blooms are completely open. Before bundling globe amaranth flowers for drying, strip the leaves off of each stem, then group the stems together in bundles of ten to twelve flowers each.
Learn more in our article How to Grow Globe Amaranth.
Globe Thistle (Echinops)
For the best results when drying globe thistle flowers for dried arrangements, cut your globe thistle stems right after the morning dew evaporates, and just prior to the plant’s flowers reaching full maturity. Take your cuttings early when drying globe thistles, as they will continue to develop and open up after being cut. Dry globe thistles like most flowers, their stems tied up together and hung in small to medium sized bundles of about five to seven flowers per bundle. Learn more from Cornell University’s profile on globe thistle.
All kinds of herbs are perfect candidates for drying. Not only do herbs make a beautiful and aromatic addition to dried flower arrangements, you can dry them as a means of preserving their flavor to use in the kitchen. Making your own dried herbs with homegrown plants ensure you’re getting a much fresher product than you would from the spice rack at the grocery store—and you know exactly what’s gone into raising the plants every step of the way. Learn more in our article How to Dry Herbs from the Garden.
Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Drying Hydrangea flowers is a bit different from the normal process to dry most flower types. Most flowers are cut once they reach peak color on the vine, but it’s important to let hydrangeas dry out more before clipping their stems. As hydrangeas dry out a bit, their colors shift, picking up secondary colors, Oakleaf cultivars like Tara, adopt hints of coral or rose, while big-leaf hydrangeas add hints of purple, aqua, or burgundy to their already brilliant blooms. Once the colors shift and the petals start to become more stiff and brittle, break out the scissors.
Cut hydrangea stems at an angle, taking between one foot and 18 inches of stem, along with the flowerheads. Strip the leaves and submerge the cuttings in freshwater. Next, arrange your hydrangea cuttings in a vase with fresh water to finish the drying process, allowing the bottom three inches of stem to be submerged under the water line. Do not overcrowd the vases, as hydrangeas need good air circulation to dry correctly. Replace water when it evaporates and allow two weeks for flowers to fully dry. Once petals are stiff and dry and stems are easy to snap, your dried hydrangeas are ready to use in dried arrangements, wreaths, and more. Learn more in our article How to Grow Hydrangeas.
Honesty/Money Plant (Lunaria)
Honesty is a gorgeous plant, and its clusters of purple flowers make a great addition to any dried flower arrangement. They have a “prairie” or wildflower look that adds a lot of charm to your arrangements. However, the blooms are just one thing that makes honesty a perfect plant for drying. One of the plant’s common names is “money plant” because of its silvery, coin-shaped seed pods. After the flowers have faded, let the plant go to seed and produce these crinkly, metallic circular seed pods. The branches of the plant that hold the papery seeds add lots of textural interest to dried flower arrangements. Learn more in our article How to Grow Honesty Flowers (Lunaria annua).
The beautiful, vibrant blue spires of larkspur blossoms make a great addition to cut flower arrangements, whether they’re fresh or dried. The Guardian Lavender variety is most recommended for those who are growing larkspur for use in dried arrangements. Use twine or a rubber band to securely bundle six to eight stalks of larkspur together. Then hang the flowers upside down in a dark, dry room that offers plenty of ventilation. Within about two weeks, the flowers will have dried completely and will be ready to use in arrangements. Learn more in our article How to Grow Larkspur Flowers .
Lavender is a perfect component for a dried flower garden. The tall stalks topped in spires of amethyst blooms look so cute sticking out of flower arrangements. But arrangements aren’t the only way to use dried lavender. Because the plant retains its scent when dried, you can also use it in potpourri, sachets, and bath and body products once you’ve dried your harvest.Learn more in our article How to Plant and Harvest Lavender.
Love-In-A-Mist (Nigella damascena)
The real star of love-in-a-mist isn’t the blooms. Instead, people who love arranging flowers value love-in-a-mist for its feathery, fernlike foliage and and the spiny seed pods the plants produce. You can dry the blossoms, of course, or wait for the plant to produce seed pods and dry those, too. Cut the flowers, leaving long stems, or trim stalks with seed pods when the pods are still fairly new and have some greenness to them. Tie a bundle of six to eight together, and hang them upside down to dry in a dark location with low humidity and plenty of ventilation. Learn more from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension’s profile on Love-in-a-Mist.
Pompon Dahlias (Dahlia pompon)
Pompon dahlias dry better than other types of dahlias, so if you know you’ll be using your flowers in dried arrangements, it makes sense to choose to grow the pompon variety. Dahlias also turn out better when dried with a desiccant than when they are simply left hanging upside down to dry.
Silica gel is the recommended desiccant to use for drying pompon dahlias. You simply prepare a plastic container with an inch of silica gel crystals, using a container with a sealable, airtight lid. Place the flowers on top of the one-inch bed of silica gel crystals, arranging them so that no part of any flower is touching another or touching the container itself. Then use the scoop that is provided with the silica gel to carefully bury the blooms in the crystals. Work slowly so the flower does not become squashed or distorted as you bury it. Once the blooms are buried, seal the container, and the flowers will dry within two to seven days. Learn more in our article How to Grow Dahlias.
Poppy (Seed heads)
Poppies are so unique and dramatic in the garden that they make a natural addition to dried arrangements. The best types of poppies to dry are breadseed poppies—also called rattle poppies—(Papaver somniferum), and Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas). In addition to drying the blooms, poppies also have attractive seed pods that can be dried for a completely different look than the blooms. You’ll see these in florist shops or craft stores labeled as “poppy pods.” The circular, rattly pods sit atop long stems and make good additions to wildflower-style arrangements, or they can even be used on their own for a more sculptural look.
Learn more in our article on How to Grow Poppies.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Ammi majus)
Queen Anne’s lace is a classic addition in all kinds of flower arrangements, both fresh and dried. The circular clusters of white blooms perform a role similar to baby’s breath, filling in between background foliage and the featured blooms with a foamy white spray. These blossoms are especially good for a way to quickly diversify the texture of an arrangement.
Choose blossoms to cut for drying that are either in the middle of their prime or about to reach their peak. Remove the leaves from Queen Anne’s lace flowers before you dry them, as they do not dry successfully, and trying to remove them once the flower has been dried can cause damage that you can avoid by stripping the leaves before starting the drying process. You can dry Queen Anne’s lace hanging upside down in bundles of two or three blooms for two to three weeks, or for faster drying, place the prepared cut flowers in a cardboard box and fill the box with a combination of equal portions white cornmeal and borax, covering the blooms. Learn more from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Queen Anne’s Lace.
Rose (Cream Veranda Rose cultivar) (Rosa ‘Cream Veranda’)
All kinds of roses are beautiful in dried arrangements, but the Cream Veranda variety seems to have been made for them. The blooms measure between two and two and a half inches across, and each one is stacked and piled with so many petals it looks as if several rose blossoms have clustered together to make one impressive bloom. The Cream Veranda rose looks more like a luscious, petal-heavy peony than it does a rose. The creamy pale pink of the blossoms also works well in dried arrangements, whether it’s adding contrast with more vibrant colors or being combined with other pale shades for a cloudy, dreamlike arrangement.
You can air-dry these roses by first removing all leaves from the stems, then bunching a few together, tying to secure the bunch at the bottom with string or twine so the blooms fan out at the top. Hang the bunches upside down from the twine for two or three weeks until they have dried completely. Using a desiccant like silica gel is recommended over air drying for large blooms like roses, as the shriveling that happens when flower are air-dried will be reduced and the roses will retain their shape better. Use an airtight plastic container, and add an inch of silica gel crystals before placing your flowers inside. Arrange the flowers carefully so they do not touch the edges of the container or one another. Then use the scoop that came with your silica gel to slowly cover the blooms and stems completely with the silica gel crystals. Be careful not to let the crystals weigh down the roses or otherwise cause them to be misshapen. Once they are buried in the silica gel, seal the container shut, and the roses will have dried in two to seven days. Learn more in our article on How to Grow Roses.
Rose Buds (Rosa)
The buds of all types of roses can be trimmed from the plant and dried while they’re still immature and included in your dried arrangements. They add something special to dried arrangements that include fully opened roses, or you can use them on their own for smaller projects like boutonnieres where an opened rose blossom would be overwhelming. You can increase the visual interest in your arrangements by cutting buds in all different stages of growth to dry, from tightly closed buds that have just appeared to those starting to unfurl their petals that would be open in a matter of days if left on the bush.
You can dry rosebuds by spreading them out on the racks of a dehydrating machine if you aren’t including long stems with the buds. You can also dry them by tying twine or string around each stem individually and hanging them upside down in a place that stays dark and dry and has good ventilation. Learn more in our article on How to Grow Roses.
Sea Holly/Alpine Thistle (Eryngium)
Sea holly’s unusual color and shape make it a natural choice for dried flower arrangements. The thistle-like blooms come in powdery blues that dry to a blue-gray color. The architectural, geometric shape of the sea holly holds up well when dried, with jagged-edged petals sticking out from behind every thistle-like bloom. Mix sea holly with other blue and purple flowers, and add some silvery gray or white foliage as contrast.
Cut the blossoms you want to dry in the morning before the flowers have opened completely. Make bundles of eight to 10 flowers each, and tie them together at the end with a twist tie or rubber band. Let them dry upside down in a spot that is dark and dry with plenty of ventilation. Find out more in our article How to Grow Sea Holly (Eryngium) Flowers.
Silvermound/Wormwood (Artemisia schmidtiana)
The silvermound plant is smaller than many that get used in cut arrangements, growing to just a foot or so tall and spreading to a foot and a half wide or less. However, it’s used in fresh and dried arrangements so frequently because the silver-gray feathery foliage makes such a beautiful contrast to the green foliage of other plants and their vibrant blooms. Silvermound blossoms in August, but the yellow flowers are small and are not normally included in arrangements like the foliage of the plant is.
Cut the sprigs you want to dry in late August, then remove any unattractive or dead foliage from the bottom of the stems before drying upside down in a dark, dry spot with good ventilation. Learn more from the Ohio State University Horticulture in Visual Perspective’s profile on silvermound.
Statice/Sea Lavenders (Limonium)
Statice flowers produce clouds of tiny blooms in shades from a heathery blue-purple through lavender and violet on to indigo. The plant is resistant to deer and is often used in arrangements because the flowers are long-lasting both on the plant and once dried. The stems are also well suited to dried arrangements, as they’re sturdy and support the blooms well.
Cut statice for arrangements when the blooms have opened to about three quarters of their eventual fullness, leaving a stem of 12 to 18 inches. The flowers will continue opening their blossoms as they dry. Be sure to strip any foliage or protruding stems from the lower part of the flowers you cut before drying them so they’ll fit into your arrangements nicely. Hanging upside down in a dry, dark room that provides ventilation, the flowers will have dried in seven to 10 days. Find out more in our article How to Grow Statice.
Strawflower (Sundaze Blaze cultivar)
Strawflowers have a crisp, papery petal texture that lends itself perfectly to dried flower arrangements. The flowers sit tall atop the thin stems and are just packed with petals. Strawflowers come in an array of colors all along the spectrum from yellow and orange to pale pink through magenta and red. These flowers really have a wild prairie feel about them, and arrangements or wreaths of dried strawflowers are a great way to add some farmhouse style to your home. Find out more in the strawflower profile from Missouri Botanical Garden.
Drying and displaying your flowers is a great way to get the most out of your gardening efforts. Dried flower arrangements are a lovely way to brighten up a dull space during the fall and winter when there is a lack of color both outdoors and in. Instead of pulling up your annual flowers from the beds each year and tossing them into the compost, get a bit more enjoyment out of their presence by bringing them indoors to decorate your home.