Few flowers can compete with peonies. Their lush ruffled petals have been revered throughout time for their beauty, inspiring countless artists to paint portraits of them and myriad of poets to pen phrases about them. They are proudly displayed in Far Eastern imperial gardens; they humbly grace kitchen tables in Midwestern homes. It is not surprising that people want to capture and preserve their elusive beauty for more than the few weeks when they bloom naturally. However, it is a challenge to successfully dry delicate peony petals. A few methods can best preserve those flowers.
Select Flowers and Buds for Drying
Take a mid-morning tour through your garden to select peonies for drying. Pink, double white and red peonies are the best candidates for drying because they retain more color when preserved. Select blemish-free flowers that have not reached their maximum bloom. Unopened buds dry well, too.
Cut flower stems with sharp scissors. Place peonies in a large vase filled with water and set outside in a shady place for two to three hours to ensure all ants have left the plant.
Separate buds and blooming flowers; each will use a different drying method.
Drying Peony Buds
Remove peony buds from vase and gently place on table covered with plastic cloth.
Remove leaves from the bottom half of the stem. Group five or six buds together and cut stems to equal length with scissors.
Place three rubber bands around the stems. One should be near the bottom, the second near the center of the stem, and the third near the top. Ensure all rubber bands are securely fastened around stems. Tie a string to bottom rubber band.
Select a dry, dark dry room in your home, basement or garage to store the buds. Rooms with less than 50 percent humidity and temperatures above 50 degrees produce optimum results. To obtain the best color, select a room that is completely dark 24 hours a day. Hang the stems upside down from a rafter or a high shelf. Alternately, you can tie the string to a wire clothes hanger and place the hanger on a clothes rack.
Check on the flowers periodically; remove any decaying or molding buds from bunches.
Drying times vary according to the plant and humidity level. In optimum conditions, peonies usually dry in a week but can take as long as four weeks.
Test dryness by gently touching buds with your fingers. The petals should feel crisp and papery; the stems should be brittle and easily breakable.
Remove them from the dark room and spray lightly with unscented hairspray to help maintain their shape. They are now ready to be used in your dried floral arrangements.
Drying Peony Flowers
Use a desiccant (drying agent) like white corn meal, sand, kitty litter or silica gel for peony blossoms that tend to lose their petals and shape when dried upside down. Silica gel will give you the best results.
Remove flowers from vase and set them on a table protected with a plastic cloth. Remove and discard all stem leaves. Using a sharp scissors, cut off all but 1 inch of the stem near the base of the flower.
Line shallow plastic container with newspaper and fill bottom with 2 or 3 inches of desiccant. Carefully place stem-less flowers face up on the desiccant, ensuring that no two blooms touch.
Fill small plastic pitcher with desiccant. Slowly and meticulously pour desiccant over and around entire flower. Use your other hand to support individual petals while you pour desiccant around them. Petals should stand upright or at a slight angle similar to their natural growing and blooming pattern. Work slowly; pouring desiccant too quickly will flatten petals.
Continue pouring desiccant until flower is completely covered.
Place cover on container and set it on a shelf where it will not be disturbed. It does not need to be stored in a dark room.
Check flowers in two days; they should feel completely dry and papery. If they are damp, reapply desiccant.
Check the flowers again in five days. Do not allow the flowers to remain indefinitely in the drying agent or they may become too brittle.
Using your fingers, gently sweep desiccant away from flowers. Place a slotted spoon under the bloom and carefully lift it from the desiccant. Move the spoon slowly from side to side so loose desiccant falls back into box.
Set dried bloom on plastic covered table cloth and brush off extra desiccant granules with a small paintbrush.
Seal flowers with unscented hairspray. They are now ready for use in craft projects and floral arrangements.
If using silica gel as a drying agent, do not throw it out. It does not wear out and can be used repeatedly. If it becomes damp, follow manufacturer’s directions for drying it in the microwave. Store it in a sealed plastic container and it will be ready for your next flower drying project.
Although silica gel is nontoxic, it can sometimes irritate eyes and nasal passages. If you have allergies or sensitivities, use a face mask and latex or plastic gloves when working with silica gel. Keep it out of reach of young children and pets.