Pressed flowers

Preserving flowers: 6 effective ideas

By BBC Maestro

If you want your floral displays to last longer or would like to enjoy the brightness of fresh blooms all year round, you can preserve fresh flowers. 

Florist Simon Lycett describes preserving as “one of the most satisfying ways to work with flowers”, which can also be really easy to achieve. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few different ways to preserve flowers, along with some handy hints and tips.

How to preserve fresh flowers permanently

There are several different methods of DIY flower preservation, from the simple (suspend them in the airing cupboard) to the more unusual sounding (microwave them). Whichever method you choose depends on how many flowers you have, how quickly you need them and what you want the end result to be.

Different blooms respond better to different drying methods. For example, a plump and fluffy peony dries perfectly upside down, while a simple sweet pea is a lovely flower to press. Alternatively, Rhododendrons practically dry themselves in the vase.

Why do we talk about “drying” interchangeably with “preserving”? Naturally, all plant material will rot with time. To prevent this, you need to remove all the moisture from the plant. Flower preservation techniques involve drying the flowers while keeping as much of their original colour and form as possible.

Here are some flower-preserving techniques to try.

1. Air drying – the low-maintenance method

Air drying is the easiest way to preserve fresh flowers. The blooms are suspended upside down in a warm and dry space, allowing the moisture to drain downwards. Gravity also helps the blooms look full and plump, even when completely dry. All you need is the flowers, florist’s wire (to act as hooks) and a clothesline or coat hanger in a space like an airing cupboard or boiler room. Make sure there’s plenty of air circulation and that the delicate blooms can’t get knocked. It can take up to four weeks for the blooms to dry completely: just keep checking in.

Dried flowers

2. Pressing – suitable for crafting and art projects

Most of us tried pressing flowers when we were kids, squashing slightly ragged daisies in the biggest book we could find. It’s worth revisiting because you can create beautiful artwork from the delicate dried flowers – “almost like a botanical painting”, as Simon Lycett describes it. Choose the freshest blooms, and if you want to invest in this rediscovered hobby, use a proper flower press instead of an encyclopaedia. It takes up to four weeks for the flowers to be fully pressed, and it’s not worth checking them for about ten days.

3. Silica gel – if you need a 3D effect

Silica gel is a crystal-textured desiccant that absorbs moisture and can be used to dry out fresh flowers. “This technique enables us to create something that looks a bit like a pressed flower but still has all its dimensions”, explains Simon Lycett. Gently cover the cut flowers with the silica crystals and leave them in a sealed box for up to five days. The effect is beautifully full and bright-looking blooms. However, unless the flowers are sealed in a vacuum, they reabsorb moisture really quickly. It’s a way of prolonging the look of your flowers rather than preserving them.

4. Resin – to create ornaments and jewellery

We were just talking about how silica-dried flowers reabsorb moisture unless they’re sealed – and this is a lovely way of sealing them. Dried flowers encased in resin make eye-catching ornaments, and if you have a steady hand, they make for pretty jewellery. It’s an involved process, as you’ll need to dry the flowers before you even get started with the resin and moulds, but it’s an excellent way to make sure your flowers last forever.

5. Microwave pressing – for speed

Tight on time? You can try preserving your flowers using a microwave. This is the sped-up way of pressing flowers, and all you need is a kitchen towel, a microwave-safe plate and some freshly cut blooms. Sandwich the flowers between the kitchen towel and microwave in short bursts. Check the flowers in between; after a few minutes, they should be nice and dry. This is a great method for pressing flowers for a children’s art project.

6. Freeze dryers and food dehydrators – for those who love a gadget

You don’t have to have an industrial-scale freeze dryer or food dehydrator in your kitchen, but you can easily pick up a small domestic model, typically used for drying herbs and fruit. Pop the freshly cut flowers on the trays and keep checking on their progress – all the moisture should have gone within a few hours. Can you use this method to preserve a bouquet? Some florists offer a wedding bouquet preservation service, and they’ll use a large commercial freeze dryer for this.

Simon Lycett advises simply trying to preserve flowers and enjoy experimenting with different blooms and techniques. “Give it a go,” he says. “If the worst comes to the worst, you’ll have dried petals you can turn into a lovely potpourri.” With this in mind, it’s definitely worth trying your hand at preserving some flowers.

For more floral hints and tips, take a look at Simon Lycett’s BBC Maestro course, Decorating with Flowers. He looks at different ways to preserve fresh blooms, along with a special lesson dedicated to pressing flowers.

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