Drying & Crafts

Video: Tips & Recommendations for Dried Flowers • Tutorial with Joy Longfellow

Hi! I'm Joy! I'm the Product Technician for Cut Flowers at Johnny's Selected Seeds.

I'm here this morning in our dried flower room. We have been harvesting all season long, and the drying room is filling up. And because we've seen a growing interest in cut flowers for dried use over the past few years, we've incorporated drying flowers as part of our evaluation process. So every season, a portion of the harvest is put into this barn. Then we're able to observe it during the season and see what potential different crops and varieties have for dried flower use.

All right! So one of the first things I wanted to talk about are some different considerations if you're thinking of drying flowers. One of the first things to consider is the space that you're going to use. Ideally, if you have an attic or a barn loft or somewhere that is dry and with little to no light, that would be ideal. We're in the loft of a barn here. We have one small window that lets a little bit of light in, but keeps it dark enough so that the blooms don't fade. If you dry in a high-light environment, the blooms are more likely to fade over time. So we have them in the barn loft.

What we've done is, we've just put string and some wire across the rafters, here, and we've hung a lot of different bunches of a lot of different crops. What we typically hang are small- to medium-sized bunches, so that we can allow for good air flow. Another thing that we do to promote airflow is to space out the bunches along the string or the wire that we're hanging. We also think about how much fresh green material we're bringing into the space at a time. One of the things that we have found is that when we bring a lot of fresh green material in here, the humidity level can rise pretty quickly in the space, and that can lead to mold issues. So we're typically mindful of bringing smaller amounts of material in at a time — small bunches. We strip the leaves off the stems, as if we were normally harvesting for cut flowers, just to try, again, to minimize the amount of green material in here.

Then there are a lot of different methods for hanging cut flowers for drying. What we like to do is band the bunch with a rubber band. We usually try to get it pretty tight, because the stems will shrink over time as they dry, the band can loosen, and sometimes things will fall out. But we try and and get it pretty tight.

What we have found works well is taking a paper clip and unfolding it, then sliding one side of the paper clip through the rubber band, then using this other hooked part to hang the bunch. That is a system where we are able to reuse the paper clips every year. The rubber bands usually just last for a season, then they're done. But that's been a pretty simple and straightforward method for us to hang and dry.

I think those are some of the basics to consider if you're planning to start drying flowers. Now I'm going to take you on a quick tour of our drying room and show some of our favorites, some tried-and-true varieties, and then some new additions that we're really excited about.

I'm going to start here. This is clary sage. This is going to be a new addition. You can see just how the blue and the pink, and there's a little bit of white here, too — they hold those colors really nicely. The beautiful dark blue there.

Moving on, this is a tried-and-true favorite for dried flowers. This is Craspedia 'Sun Ball'. You can see how nicely these hold that really rich gold color, especially if they're harvested just as they're opening up. This is a great one — not a lot of foliage to clean from the stem, so it's a really easy one to harvest. It dries beautifully, holds beautifully.

Grasses are a really great option for dried flowers. Here are some of our favorite grass varieties. This is Hare's Tail Grass (aka "bunny tails"). This is just an example of a few different types of millet that we have, that dry really well. This is 'Green Drops', with a little bit smaller grains, a little bit of a purple hue on those. This is 'Silver Tip' wheat. This is a really nice option for drying. 'Frosted Explosion' grass is one of my favorites — kind of a feathery look on these kind of sparkly grasses. This is Greater Quaking Grass. This is another new addition — really delicate stems and kind of a shimmery look to this. Then another fun one that's a new add, this is Savannah Grass. You can use it fresh or dried, but when it's fresh it has more of a kind of ruby red color to it, and it fades a little bit and darkens, but it darkens to this beautiful, light lavender-gray color. It's really soft and delicate, but I think it's going to be a really beautiful wintery color as well, so I'm excited about this one.

This is another really beautiful tried-and-true cut flower variety; this is Ammobium alatum (common name winged everlasting). What I love about this are the tiny delicate white flowers. There are multiple flowers on a stem, so when you're harvesting this, you'll likely end up with flowers at several different stages of opening, but I think that that's one of the things that makes this a really interesting cut flower. You get a few different colors and tones from the center. For example, on this one, you have some where the center has turned and is dark already, but a few blooms that haven't opened at all, and some still with a little bit of gold color. This is a really productive plant, multiple harvests off of this, and kind of a workhorse cut flower variety.

Then another one with a similarly delicate look — this is matricaria. I have a few different examples of matricaria (or feverfew) varieties to show, just to see what they look like dried. This is the 'Magic Single White', and you can see it has a single layer of white petals, but it's once it's dried, it's the gold center — or the disk — that really becomes prominent, and really delicate and a sweet color. This is 'Tetra White'. This is a double-flowering white, but as it dries it takes on a little bit more of a buttery oatmeal color, with fuller blooms that are are really nice and interesting. Then 'Magic Lime Green' is another really great matricaria variety for fresh use, but this is just giving you a chance to see what it looks like once it's dried. Again, it takes on more of a caramel or buttery color as it ages.

Another really fun one is Helipterum. This is 'Pierrot White', and what I love about this variety is the strong color contrast between the bright white ray florets on the outside and then that gold and black on the disk in the center. This is just so striking, and it really holds its form and shape and color well, from fresh in the field to being stored dried. This has been in here for at least a month, maybe two, and you can see just how how well the color and the blooms are holding up.

A couple of fun ones to add a little bit more color to dried arrangements are marigolds. You can see we have three different varieties of marigolds hanging here. This is 'Coco Gold'. This is 'Giant Orange' — a little bit darker color. Then this is 'Giant Yellow'. So you can see those dry pretty well. Sometimes they have a little bit of a tendency to shatter, depending on the stage that they're harvested at, but in general this is just a really nice full pop of color.

Another fun one is sunflowers. These I just harvested last week, so they're still drying down. This is 'Soraya', a branching variety — a really productive branching variety, great for cuts in the field. One of the things I like about it is the long, straight clean stems that are easy to harvest and easy to clean, but then also, these really beautiful uniform blooms that dry down to a great size for using in wreaths or dried arrangements in the winter. These will continue to dry down a little bit more, but you can see the the rich gold color, the dark black disk provides beautiful contrast, and a lot of fun.

Gomphrena is another tried-and-true cut flower crop that's great for drying. One of the things that we're exploring here with this Gomphrena are harvesting and drying methods. Gomphrena is really productive, but also very time-consuming to harvest. So one of the things we were looking at in the field this year is what it what it means to harvest a mature, entire plant in one cut and just hang it to dry, and not spend the time in the field, stripping and cleaning and bunching stems, and saving that work until later in the season, after we're out of the field.

This is just an example of what it looks like to cut an entire Gomphrena plant, and hang it to dry. This variety is 'QIS™ Pink', a really beautiful variety, really delicate light pink. I love this one. You can see a lot of material here. This took about a minute to harvest, but it's going to take a lot more work to process later in the season. So… still a kind of a question mark, what makes the most sense, and it probably depends on everyone's operation.

These are some examples of whole plants drying, and then, as a contrast, this is what it would look like if we were harvesting and stripping and cleaning in the field, for a really nice neat clean bunch that we would hang to dry, like this. Definitely, this is ready to go and use, but it takes a lot more work and time to get something like this in the field. Either way, Gomphrena is a really great crop for dried flower use. This is 'Raspberry Cream', 'QIS Pink', 'Audray Purple-Red', and 'Audray White'.

One of my favorite Celosia varieties for drying is this one. This is 'Flamingo Feather'. This is a really early, productive, highly uniform Celosia variety that forms these beautiful spikes on long, clean straight stems. If you've grown this variety, you'll probably notice that this color, in here, is a little bit lighter than what you would see in the field. When you cut it for fresh use, it has a little bit more pink to it, but when it dries, it turns to this beautiful silvery-white color, with just a little pink blush on it, which again, I think, makes it really well suited for winter time arrangements.

I'm going to talk about a few more favorite dried flower varieties that we have hanging on this side of the barn. Up here, we have a whole wall of strawflowers, one of my favorite crops for dried flowers, just because of the wide range of colors. This crop offers a lot of really beautiful jewel tones, a lot of some nice bright colors — everything from a 'Creamy White' to a really dark burgundy. And they hold their color really well after harvesting, too.

One of the things, though, that is good to keep in mind about strawflowers is the harvest stage. They can be a little bit tricky, to tell when to harvest, because the blooms do continue to open after they've been harvested, and once they're in the drying room. Ideally, you want to avoid having the blooms blow open and show their centers. So you want, ideally for drying, to end up with something where the the center is still kind of hidden. But it can be hard to identify the correct stage in the field. Strawflowers will remain closed on shady or cloudy days, so it can be hard to tell at what stage of openness the blooms are, unless you're harvesting in full sun. So, we harvest in full sun, and try to harvest blooms where only with the outer "petals" — or outer bracts — are starting to open. It can still be tricky to identify the correct harvest stage, and it definitely takes some trial and error with this crop. So if you're growing it or trying it for the first time, don't get discouraged! Just keep playing around with it, and you'll get a good sense for what stage to harvest at, so that you will end up with mostly closed blooms and not too many that reveal the center, that are too faded.

Another favorite crop for drying is statice. Statice is another good one that holds its color really well after it's been harvested and dried. Again, another crop with a wide range of colors, from white to really bold yellows to lots of nice blues and purples and pinks and peaches. This is a great one. The plants are really productive. We get multiple harvests off of these per year, and this provides a lot of the bulk material for dried flower arrangements and things like that.

A few other favorites are, here you can see amaranth. This is 'Hot Biscuits', and 'Red Spike'. These actually stiffen up a little bit as they're dried and provide some really dark rich colors and nice textures for dried arrangements.

Another one that we're experimenting with this year is Carthamus. So this is Carthamus 'Zanzibar'. These are really uniform, productive plants that provide a lot of great foliage for fresh arrangements, but we wanted to see what they looked like dried. This is an example of how they look — a really interesting, textural, kind of geometric appearance. I'm really curious to see how these actually look in arrangements this winter.

Just a few more notes about how we handle dried flowers… over the course of the season, here, as the barn fills up, we often run out of hanging space. At some point, we'll transition to taking material that has dried down really nicely and putting it upright, in buckets. In general, everything we harvest gets hung to dry, but there are some crops that are sturdier and hold their shape really well once they have been dried, and we find that they can be placed upright and will hold for a long time, really nicely, just standing upright.

I wanted to talk about a few of those that that work well that way. You can see, here, we have Nigella pods. These are nice and sturdy and will stand upright. Eryngium is another one that does really well stored upright. Here's Bupleurum. This is another good foliage — and green — option for dried arrangements. Carthamus: extremely sturdy, and is holding up really well in these buckets. Statice is another one, where we've started to take some of this from hanging and and putting it on the floor for storage.

Then I want to talk about a couple of other varieties, specifically, in how we dry them. We can't talk about dried flowers without mentioning Scabiosa stellata. This is another really classic dried flower. This is a Scabiosa variety ('Starflower'), and when it flowers, it has a pale blue flower, but that shatters pretty quickly and leaves behind this beautiful globe of a pod, with a bit of a dark center in each of these little papery cones that are that are formed around the globe. And again, really nice clean stems on these. Depending on the crop and the plants, you can get a range of sizes in the globes. These are really great for winter dried work. They're also small enough to be used in design work for boutonnières, and things like that. They're a lot of fun, and really uniform and productive.

Finally, I wanted to mention one other crop here. This is Rudbeckia. I mentioned that for pretty much everything that we dry, we hang to dry, and that works really well. Rudbeckia is the one exception, so far this season, where these were dried just standing upright in the buckets, like this. Part of the reason for that is that they have these bright orange and gold ray petals around the disk, and we found that if we dry them hanging upside-down, what happens is, those ray petals fold forward, and you don't get the same rich color that you do if they're dried upright — The ray petals are allowed to kind of fall open, like that. It might make them a little bit harder to work with, but I think that this method of drying allows the color to be shown off a little bit more, and is a little bit more interesting. Either way works, but I just wanted to to share that information, as well a few more varieties that I'm kind of excited about.

This one is a new addition this year. This is Russian statice (Limonium suworowii). The variety is 'Pink Pokers'. What we really like about this is the way that it holds its form and its color, once it's dried. This is really comparable in color to what we harvested fresh from the field a few months ago. This variety has long, thin clean stems and is really, really sturdy, once dried. There's a little bit of shattering, but not too much. I'm looking forward to using this more this fall into the winter.

Another new addition for this year is Echinops, or globe thistle. This variety is called 'Ritro'. You can see it has this steely-blue color on these globes, a really interesting texture. This is another one that's really fun to use for design work or for boutonnières or things like that, but also great for any sort of winter dried flower look. The blue is really interesting, the stems are nice and long and straight and clean. This is a thistle, so they can be a little spiky when you're harvesting, so definitely take care at that point. As far as harvest stage goes, ideally, you want to harvest them before the globes have started to flower. You can see these two right here are just starting to send out flowers on these thistles but if you can catch them right before that, that's ideal. They should hold their color really nicely, once they're dried.

We have another new Helipterum (paper daisy) variety to talk about. Here is 'Pierrot White', which we've had for a couple of years, and now we're adding 'Pierrot Red', which, you can see, is a really nice companion to it. It has the the same black and gold disk, then these really nice bright, more reddish-pink — especially after it's dried — ray petals around here. So beautiful in the field, fresh, also really nice and holds its color well dried. Long, straight, sturdy clean stems that are really easy to harvest, and the plants are really productive, too. So excited to add this one.

This is a little bit later in the season. We've worked through evaluations on a lot of this dried flower material, and we're still working with it and evaluating it, and we also have been adding to our collection, all the way through frost, here on the farm. We have one late addition to the drying room to talk about. This is Eucalyptus that I'm standing in front of, and this is a really nice addition for greenery and for a little bit of nice color contrast later in the growing season. We don't usually start harvesting this until August on the farm. The plants are a little slow-growing and take a while for the stems to thicken up and become woody, and that's the point at which we want to harvest, for both fresh and for drying. When we do harvest for dried use, we do the same thing as with most other things: we hang upside-down to dry, and the color can fade a little bit from what it looks like fresh in the field, but it still can retain a really nice rain range of blues and greens that contrast nicely with a lot of the flowering plants that we're bringing in for dried flowers. I'm standing in front of two varieties that dry down really nicely for us. This is 'Silver Dollar' right here. You can see that the leaves are a little bit larger and it has a little bit more of a silvery-gray hue to it, and that's contrasting with 'Silver Drop', which is this one, right here. The leaves tend to be just a little bit smaller and it's a little bit more green and less of that blue-gray color. But again, both are really nice productive options for a dried flower.

One of the things, just as we wrap up our time in the dried flower room, that I wanted to mention, is that if you if you are planning to harvest dried flowers, keep in mind a couple of things: first, when you're harvesting, make sure that you're choosing material that is good quality and disease-free. Keep in mind everything you would look for in a fresh cut flower. We don't wait. We don't harvest everything for fresh, then just take in the leftovers for dried flowers. We make sure that we're harvesting at the correct stage, and that we're getting good quality blooms, because that translates to a much better dried product later in the season and a longer shelf life for these products as well.

So, just a couple of things to keep in mind. If you do have questions on specific crops that we've mentioned and the stage of harvest, you can check out our website. We have information on all the varieties that we offer and you can find more information about harvesting here.

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