Deb Babcock: Bring garden colors indoors

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At a glance

■ Flowers suitable for pressing: pansy, anemone, buttercup, columbine, cornflower, cosmos, geranium, heather, pansy, phlox, delphinium, salvia, sweet pea

■ Flowers suitable for air drying: larkspur, statice, strawflower, yarrow, baby’s breath, pussy willow, queen anne’s lace, grasses, rosebuds

flowers suitable for burying: delphinium, aster, carnation, marigold, zinnia, chrysanthemum, rose

■ Flowers suitable for microwave: pansy, carnation, sunflower, rose, zinnia, daffodil

■ Leaves suitable for glycerin: ivies, mistletoe, periwinkle, cotoneaster, oaks, maples, mountain ash

— Vegetable and fruit gardeners have learned how to preserve their garden bounty beyond the short harvest season through canning, freezing and other methods. Flower gardeners can do the same thing, too, for their colorful flowers, grasses, seed heads and foliage.

There are four primary ways to preserve flowers and foliage: pressing, air drying, using a drying mixture and in the microwave.

Glycerin is a fifth option, best for leaves, that makes them supple and long-lasting. The flowers or other plant material you want to preserve should be picked at its prime, using only the most perfect specimens. Poorly shaped, damaged or wilted flowers will only look worse when dried.

Delicate, flat flowers are highly suitable for pressing. Flower presses are handy, but a thick (non-glossy) catalog or old phone book works just as well. Simply sandwich your flowers or foliage between the pages, close and place a weight on top. Several layers of flowers can be pressed in the same book as long as there is adequate space between the layers for moisture to be absorbed by the pages. Let dry for about two weeks.

Plants that hold their petals tightly, grasses, herbs and seed heads are superb candidates for air-drying. To air-dry, simply secure 8 to 10 stems (foliage removed) with a twist tie and hang the bundle upside down from a hook in a dry, dark area like a storage shed, attic or closet. Within a week or two, your bundle will be completely dry.

Burying your flowers in a drying mixture works well for those plants that hold a lot of moisture. Borax and sand or cornmeal is a popular homemade desiccating mixture. Silica gel is a popular, reusable drying material that is commercially available through craft stores. The technique for burying flowers in these mixtures varies, depending upon the flower being dried. It takes two days to three weeks for the flowers to dry, depending on the flower and the mixture.

The fastest method for drying is using the microwave oven. It takes only one to three minutes and gives your plants a fresher, more colorful appearance. You’ll need support material such as silica gel to hold your flowers during the drying process. After heating, the flower must stand in the silica gel until it has cooled, anywhere from two to six hours. Then spray the flowers with a clear matte finish or hair spray to keep them from rehydrating.

Glycerin replaces the water in your plant material, and is especially good for leaves. Using two parts water to one part glycerin (ordinary car antifreeze will work or purchase glycerin at the pharmacy) submerge leaves completely in the solution and weigh down to keep them submerged. In about two to six days, the glycerin solution should be completely absorbed in the leaves.

Relive the glory days of your summer garden by drying your prized plants for an indoor display this winter.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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