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Time to dry those flowers

By BY CAROLYN BIVINS Extension agent
It's early autumn, the perfect time to pick some flowers to add color to your decor. A fun thing to do that will add bright color to your home is to dry some of those pretty flowers. Then, many of the same flowers that decorate your garden can be enjoyed year-round in a dried flower arrangement. Of course, you are not limited to the flower materials from your garden. If you walk through a wooded area in your neighborhood you'll find vast numbers of twigs, wild flowers, seed pods and leaves that can be used in dried flower arrangements
There are two simple methods for drying flowers. The first method is simply to air-dry the collected flowers. Strawflower, Baby's Breaths, Thistles and Goldenrod will dry naturally by the air-dry methods. The flowers should be picked before they are in full bloom, since they will open slightly while drying.
Remove the foliage from the stem and hang flowers upside down in-groups of 8 to 12 stems. Dry the flowers in a cool, dark, dry place where there is good ventilation. The flowers are ready to be used when they are crisp to the touch.
If you plan to use the leaves in your arrangement, they can also be preserved. Dry the leaves by flattening them inside books or beneath heavy objects.
The second method for drying flowers is to use a dehydrating agent or desiccant. A desiccant is a chemical compound, which removes water from the flower without altering the shape of the plant tissue. There are several materials available for this purpose. Silica gel is the most widely used desiccant because it is easy to use and dries the flowers quickly. Another popular desiccant is borax -always mix borax with either fine sand or yellow corn meal.
Flowers such as Coral-Bells, Marigolds, Pansies, Zinnia, Daisies and Roses may be dried with desiccants. Pick the flowers when they are in bud or just prior to full bloom so they will be at their peak of color.
To use a desiccant, spread about two inches of the material in a shallow box. Cut the flower stems to about one inch and insert a wire stem. Place the flower, with the wire stem looped below it into the desiccant. Carefully sprinkle the drying mixture over the flowers until they are completely covered. Make sure that the petals retain their natural positions.
Keep the flower in a tightly covered container until they are completely dried. If you use the borax mixture, it will take your flowers over a week to dry. With the silica gel, your flowers will be ready in a few days. Also, borax should not be used to dry delicate flowers with high water content, such as Roses.
When the flowers are dry, remove them from the desiccant and shake gently to clean off the dehydrating agent. A fine brush may be used to remove tiny particles. Artists' pastels may be used to add color, if necessary. Finely grate the pastels until it resembles dust. Place the dust in a plastic bag and insert the flower, holding onto the stem. Dust the flower with the pastel and remove it from the bag.
The next step is to wrap the wire stems with green floral tape and you are ready to begin making your flower arrangements.
Drying flowers can be a satisfying hobby, especially at this time of year, when so many flowers, leaves and other plant materials are available. Remember to choose flowers just before they are in full bloom since they will open slightly while drying. Experiment with both the air-dry method and the desiccant method of drying to see which one works better for your flowers. Be sure to clip this article, save it and enjoy drying flowers for permanent flower arrangements.