The Secret to Drying Hydrangeas and Other Botanicals

Here's how to keep your hydrangea blooms colorful all year long.

Hydrangea Flower Arrangement
Photo: Van Chaplin

Back in 2011, we interviewed author and designer, James T. Farmer III, (who is now Editor-at-Large for Southern Living) on his secret to drying hydrangeas. If these gorgeous buds are still blooming in your yard, you may want to check out this foolproof guide.

THE OBJECTIVE: Successfully drying these iconic Southern plants to use in arrangements.

THE SECRET: Use water! "I probably get more questions about drying hydrangeas than anything else," says designer James T. Farmer III. "The answer, paradoxical as it sounds, is to dry them in water. It preserves the color." Farmer cuts the blooms off the shrub at just the right time, which is shortly after they peak. He removes the leaves and places the stems in a container with water covering half or less of the stem. After a few days, the water evaporates, drying the flowers.

CUTTING TIPS: Most hydrangeas change color on the bush, and the secret is cutting just as the hues begin to change, says Farmer. For example, the time to cut 'Nikko Blue' hydrangeas is when they've turned from classic blue to more of an aqua or jade. Purple hydrangeas will usually fade to a gorgeous blue on the bush, which is your signal to start snipping, while pink blossoms will change to chartreuse. Lighter types such as white 'Limelight,' 'Annabelle,' and peegee begin a snowy white, then turn a beautiful lime green. Oakleaf hydrangeas will bloom white and then fade to coral.

COLOR ENHANCER: Tinting hydrangeas with Rit dye in Denim Blue or Royal Blue can give a deeper color, says Farmer. Just add a few drops of the dye to the water. He also gently dabs the actual petals with dye to further enhance the hue.

THE ARRANGEMENT: Farmer is a fan of traditional arrangements, such as a bouquet of dried 'Limelight' in a blue-and-white urn, but he also likes mixing hydrangeas with textural plants and foliage, such as asparagus ferns, papyrus, or begonias, for a more modern look.

OUR UPDATE: We asked Farmer for some extra tips on preserving other types of flowers and botanicals. “Strawflower, status, Queen Anne's lace pods, and poppy pods dry wonderfully,” he said. He prefers to cut the pods and strawflower off the plant, arrange in their “permanent” container then let them dry in place. Since dried flowers are so brittle, the less handling the better.

PRESSING FLOWERS: This would be a fun summer craft project with your children to give as teacher gifts or for any occasion. According to Farmer, “All you’ll need for pressing is a heavy book and some wax paper. Old encyclopedias work great. Open to the middle of the book and sandwich a blossom such as a zinnia, rose, cosmos, or black-eyed Susan “face up” between sheets of wax paper and close the book. Stack a couple more books on top so the book can literally press the flower flat. This can take a week or so but soon you’ll have pressed flowers for framing. Grasses work well too! With more vegetative and foliage specimens, it can be a good bit of trial and error but the same method. If you frame your pressed specimens, use a UV protective glass or museum glass in the frame to help preserve them from the sun and light (which will fade them). Pressed flowers and botanical specimens make stunning wall art hung in groupings.”