Softer - More Natural - Dry Flowers & Foliage
Part 4 of 5

by Fred Davis, MG, Hill Gardens of Maine (To view previous articles, click: Archives)

Welcome through Our Garden Gate! Earlier this year (2000), a visitor to our web site sent an email asking about using glycerin as part of the process of drying flowers. I'm afraid my response wasn't very satisfying, but since then I've come to better appreciate at least one method not previously considered - that of using this easily-obtainable solution to significantly improve flower-drying results.

Glycerin, a component of many skin-softening preparations, actually absorbs into the cells of plant, stem, leaf and flower parts, replacing water. Then, after "drying" in the conventional way, this glycerin remains in plant tissues to give them a soft, natural feel and appearance. While flower color is often dulled, petals and leaves normally remain pliable, oftentimes with an attractive, semi-glossy "glow". Particularly useful for ordinarily tough, woody foliage like eucalyptus, beech, boxwood and vining ivy, glycerin can also be utilized to good effect on practically any attractive foliage commonly used in dried arrangements, swags, wreaths or foliar table decorations.

Two methods are recommended: systemic - where freshly-cut stems are placed in a solution of one-part glycerin and three-parts water -- very much like stems or flowers in a vase; or by total immersion of similarly fresh stems in a slightly stronger solution: one-part glycerin and two-parts water. In both methods, the solution -- at least to start with -- is warmed to 160- to 180-degrees (F) for better mixing, uptake and penetration of many plant's wax-like coating (cuticle).

Systemic Method: First, prepare the solution (1:3) and heat as stated above and pour into a suitable container like a mason jar or large-mouth vase. Next, using a hammer or similar tool, lightly "crush" the lower one- or two-inches of stem to facilitate absorption. Immediately insert stems into heated mixture to a depth of at least three-inches. Watch the solution level and replace any amount drawn up by the plants so a minimum of three-inches of depth are constantly maintained.

The length of time needed for glycerin to completely replace the water varies with temperature, length of stem and density of plant tissues -- from ten to 14 days, to as much as five or six weeks for especially tough types like magnolia, lemon and aspidistra. If the tips of leaves wilt or droop shortly after stems are removed from the solution, either re-crush and return to the glycerin until wilting is no longer an issue or simply hang the stems upside-down for a few days to allow absorbed glycerin to "flow" into the tips.

Immersion using a stronger solution will give similar end results but enough volume is required to totally submerge all parts of the stems and leaves beneath the surface. The process is pure simplicity: lay stems or individual leaves in a container (like a Pyrex or glass baking pan) and hold them down with something like a plate or saucer. Pour in 1:2 solution until all parts are covered and let stand for five to seven days - or until foliage color has uniformly darkened. Remove and blot dry using paper towels or a dish cloth and either hang or spread out to dry.

Actual flower petals will likely lose most - if not all - of their original color. I've heard - though I've not confirmed - that previously-dried flowers such as hydrangea can be very lightly misted with 1:2 glycerin and allowed to air-dry. . .and, while colors or hues may be darkened, petals are supposed to be less brittle and less subject to damage. Perhaps one of our experienced readers will either confirm or refute this claim.

Here are a few tips to help insure satisfactory results:

Finally, most drugstores and pharmacies sell Glycerin, USP, in pint bottles at (more-or-less) reasonable prices. Larger quantities may be purchased from Koch Industries of Bennett, Colorado. More information on drying flowers is available in Archives. Look for the series on Dry Flowers.

Another source of glycerin: Angel's Earth, 1633 Scheffer Ave, St. Paul Mn. 55116. They have it in 8oz, 16oz, or 1 gal containers. My information is that a gallon will cost under $30, including postage. Of course the gallon is better economy if you are going to do a lot. (address courtesy of George Patten, as recorded in 

How would you like to build your very own flower press? Part 5 has plans, instructions, and photos!

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