If you like to gather plants for holiday decorating, now is the time. If you wait until later in fall, colors may have faded and seedpods may have opened and shattered.
Many of us have craft projects specifically in mind when we plant flowers and herbs that dry well. Suitable “everlastings” come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, from the deep yellow of yarrow to the vibrant purples of statice and gomphrena. Seedpods, ornamental grasses and leaves also lend themselves to dried arrangements.
It’s best to collect plants for drying in late summer; and preferably on cool mornings after the dew has dried or in the evening… not in the heat of the day when they may lose their color and shape.
Keep the bundles relatively small to increase air flow, and bind the stems with a rubber band that will tighten as they dry. Stripping unwanted leaves will also reduce drying time. To keep the stems straight, hang them upside and place them in a garage or shed to dry. They retain color best when dried quickly at 105-110 F, possibly with a fan or open window to increase air flow. They are dry when the stems snap easily, which can take up to three weeks. Once they’re dried, they can be arranged in vases, swags, wreaths or pots or used for Christmas tree ornaments or other decorations.
Some plants dry easily while others fade or shatter, so you may want to experiment before doing a big harvest. Here are a few general guidelines:
*For flowers that open after picking, pick the bud as the first set of petals opens: strawflower, globe thistle, beebalm, chives, roses, pearly everlasting, globe thistle.
*Hydrangeas should not be collected until the flowers have dried some in the garden, normally August into October. Hanging them upside down will keep the stems straight.
*For flowers that contract after picking, gather the flower clusters as the center buds open and sides just begin to open: tansy, ageratum, feverfew, calendula, sunflower.
*Flowers that don’t change after cutting, should be picked when fully open but before the color begins to fade: yarrow, gomphrena, statice, cockscomb, black-eyed susan, sea holly.
* Pick spiky flowers when just half the length is blooming: salvia, goldenrod, larkspur, gayfeather.
*Grasses are best gathered when the seedheads are fully ripe but stems are still green.
*Seedpods should be collected soon after they mature to prevent them from shattering: baptisia, beebalm, love-in-a-mist, milkweed, penstemon, poppy, coneflower, Siberian iris, hibiscus, sumac.
Bob Henrickson, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, plantnebraska.org