The romantic renaissance of country decorating
has brought with it a return of the craft of drying flowers.
Whether used in bouquets, pressed flower pictures, in potpourri,
on hats, wreaths, kissing balls, shadow boxes, hearth brooms,
Shaker boxes, window ornaments, door swags, or whatever--
dried flowers inspire us to recreate a gentler time of beauty
and elegance in our homes.
The inspiration to grow and use dried flowers
is as close as the nearest garden center or greenhouse this
spring. Many of the common annuals like zinnias and marigolds
are easily dried. Look for transplants of these potentially
everlasting flowers. These are the ones most often used in
dried-flower crafting. It's so easy, they almost dry themselves!
Some of the names of "everlastings"
to look for include strawflower, globe amaranth, cockscomb
(both crested and plumed), statice, baby's breath, money plant,
Chinese lantern, and bells-of-Ireland. Plus, there are 3 with
unpronounceable Latin names and no common name: ammobium,
helipterum, and xeranthemum. Take them home and give them
names you can live with, like Harry or Florence. Various ornamental
grasses, such as love-in-a-mist seedpods, blue sage (and it's
white-flowered variation), larkspur and yarrow are also easily
All of the above flowers and plants are air-dried.
This merely involves cutting them when the dew is gone, tying
several stems together with string or pipe cleaner after the
leaves are removed, and hanging in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated
place. Drying time will vary. Check how they feel after a
week or so. When they feel crisp, take them down and store
them in boxes or paper bags.
Most of these can be used just as they are,
but strawflowers and a few others will need wire stems to
use them in bouquets. To wire, cut off the flower stem and
thread a length of 20-gauge florist wire through the center.
Make a 2-inch hairpin bend at the top, and gently pull it
through the center of the flower. Wire the new stem with floral
Preserving other garden flowers requires a
drying agent. Use sand, fresh kitty litter, a white cornmeal-and-borax
mixture, or, for best results, silica gel. This is commercially
available and sold under several different trade names at
Pick flowers in the middle of the day and cut
stems ½ to 1 inch long. Fill the bottom of a flat dish
or cardboard box with 1 inch of the drying agent. Put in the
flowers. It's usually best to place flat flowers, like daisies
or pansies, face down. Most of the flowers with many petals
like zinnias, marigolds, calendulas, mums, and aster do better
facing up. Experimenting is the only solution. Spikes of flowers
like snapdragons and scarlet sage are placed horizontally.
Now, carefully add more drying agent until the flowers are
completely covered. The drying time varies, but check after
several days. Dry petals will feel like paper. Store in boxes
with a little silica gel to absorb moisture in the air. If
using the dried flowers in arrangements, wire the stems just
like the strawflowers.
You can speed up the drying-agent process by
using a microwave oven. Prepare a few flowers at a time in
a small dish. Put them in the microwave along with a cup of
water. "Cook" on medium for 10 seconds to 3 minutes,
depending on the thickness of the flower. Again, you must
experiment with timing because conditions are so variable.
After microwaving, allow them to cool in the drying agent
for anywhere from a few hours to up to a day or so.
Flowers with flat faces like pansies, petunias,
violas, and daisies are good to press and use for decorating
stationery, bookmarks, place mats or for making pictures.
Simply place the flowers between sheets of blotting paper
and put in a flower press, or weigh them down with bricks
or books. Check them after a week. Fern fronds are also good
Potpourris are made by drying petals on screens
or trays in a dehydrator, gas oven with a pilot light, or
in an electric oven on the lowest setting. Rose petals make
up the bulk of the mixture, with other flowers, herbs, spices,
and citrus peels adding additional fragrance and color. To
enhance the scent, add 10 drops or so of an essential oil
and 3 tablespoons of ground orris root as a fixative to each
quart of dried material.
There are many summer flowering annuals which
are excellent for drying. Marigold, salvia, cosmos, zinnia,
coreopsis and gloriosa daisy are among the most popular; though
ageratum, dahlia, calendula, chrysanthemum, dianthus, aster
and daisies also make fine dried specimens.
Drying flowers is such a rewarding experience
because it is easy to do. The flowers usually dry remarkably
well, and they last for many years. Flowers can be preserved
in several different ways, by hanging, pressing or with various
If you would like to dry your own bouquets,
cut the blossoms when their color is at its peak. Remove the
leaves and try one of the following methods:
Hanging: Air-drying or hanging is the easier
and best method for preserving many flowers. As a general
rule, flowers need only to have the leaves removed and to
be hung upside down in a warm, dry, dark place until the moisture
content is evaporated. An attic, closet or pantry is a good
place to hang flowers for drying.
Pressing: Easy and quick, though the contour
is lost and flowers will be flat. For pressing, use unglazed
paper, such as newsprint or an old telephone book. Place the
flowers so that they do not overlap between several thicknesses
of the paper. Weigh down with a heavy object. The time required
for drying can be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks.
Drying Agents: Flowers can be dried by burying
them in materials such as sand and borax or corn meal and
borax. These materials are successful for certain flowers,
but undependable for others.
More recently, a drying agent called silica
gel has been used. This compound has the capacity to absorb
large quantities of moisture and can quickly dehydrate cut
flowers. Flowers, minus leaves, are buried in the gel in a
closed container and left for about a week. Silica gel can
be used over and over by re-drying the gel in a warm oven.
Silica gel should be available at florist or
Microwave oven: The versatile oven, which has
proven itself so useful to the chef, also has the capacity
of drying your favorite flowers. Microwave drying is quick
and relatively simple.
Whichever method you choose, using dried flowers
for "permanent" arrangements can be colorful and
rewarding, and surprisingly inexpensive.
After you've dried your flowers, put a strand
of No. 2 florist's wire through each flower's head, securing
the wire by bending it into a hood at the flower-head end.
The final step is to wrap all wire with green floral tape
and, presto, you're ready to be creative.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
SECOND WEEK OF NOVEMBER 2002
QUESTION: I have just planted two Bradford pears. They are
about 10 feet in height. My question is, are they damaged
or killed easily by strong winds? In the location they are
planted, they seem to be exposed to strong gusts and usually
a constant breeze. Should I move them before they get established
to a less windy more sheltered location? Or, do you think
they will be OK? I live in northern Maryland, and it is starting
to get cold in the evenings.
ANSWER: The Bradford Pear is a fruit tree so
it's not going to be as strong as some of the hardwoods. However,
I would think that short of a hurricane they should be OK
in the location where you have them.
QUESTION: I would like to learn about specific companion plantings,
especially connected to vegetables. I live in Winter Park,
FL (Zone 9). I am growing Swiss Chard (the white type), tomatoes,
Bush Beans, cucumbers, squash (esp. spaghetti, scalloped,
zucchini and the mild non-sweet yellow squashes), lettuce,
radishes, etc. I love growing herbs and plant many each year.
I also grow a variety of flowers. But I am interested in the
various companion plants that can be used in both beds and
ANSWER: I would recommend that you go to your
library and check out a book by Louise Riotte entitled Carrots
Love Tomatoes - Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful
Gardening, published by Garden Way Publishing. Their address
is: Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, Vermont, 05261. As
an example, under "carrots" this book says: "Carrots
grow well with leaf lettuce and tomatoes but have a pronounced
dislike for dill."
QUESTION: Are cowpeas the same thing as black-eyed
ANSWER: Here in Texas, these, along with field
peas, are all the same thing. However, there are different
types, namely blackeyes, purple hulls, creams and crowders.
They are classified by their pod and seed characteristics.
Back in the days of the Wild West, Southern
gentility and Northern hostility, our celebrated black-eyed
peas were used strictly for feeding cattle in the South. During
the Civil War battle of Vicksburg, the town was under siege
for over 40 days. No supplies went in and none came out. The
entire town was on the brink of starvation. So they ate those
humble "cowpeas," thus starting a southern tradition.
Nowadays black-eyes are eaten every New Year's Day to bring
good luck for the coming year. All the way back to the days
of the Pharaoh, black--eyed peas have been a symbol of luck
and fortune. The superstition is that those who eat black-eyes,
an inexpensive and modest food, show their humility and save
themselves from the wrath of the heavens because of the vanity
they might have. Black-eyed peas are neither a pea nor a bean.
They are lentils.
Then you will know that cowpeas are black-eyed
peas and why they were called cowpeas.
QUESTION: I would like to know how often and when are the
best times to apply pre-emerge herbicides to control dallisgrass.
ANSWER: The use of pre-emergent herbicides alone
will not control dallisgrass because it is a perennial. This
PLANTanswers website gives information on dallisgrass and
QUESTION: I am looking for any and all information concerning
deer and their likes and dislikes of plants. I am especially
interested in perennials and annuals. I have heard some theories
ANSWER: Here are a couple of PLANTanswer articles
listing deer resistant plants. I would emphasize that these
are only "deer resistant".
QUESTION: I have a place in Wimberley, Texas.
I have just cleared an area of brush and cedar trees. There
are bare spots that I would like to cover over the winter.
Would fescue grass be acceptable? If so, what kind? Will it
go away next spring so that I might sprig St. Augustine?
ANSWER: If your intent is to just plant something
to hold the soil for the winter, winter rye is commonly used
for this. This is a cool season annual that will die in the
heat of the summer or can easily be killed with a herbicide
for earlier elimination.
QUESTION: Near Whitesboro, Texas (North Central Texas), there
is a pasture with many "fruit trees". These are
similar in size and shape to peach trees. They look as though
they may have originally been planted, and then spread. They
have been there for 40+ years. My husband's grandmother called
them "wild lemon trees". He does not remember her
ever picking and using them, although his family "put
up" almost anything edible. They are the size of a golf
ball. They are basically round and a mottled yellow in color.
They have the appearance of a lemon inside, but smell like
a grapefruit. One fruit yielded approximately 20 seeds. Any
idea what they are? If so, how would I best plant the seeds?
ANSWER: I think you either have a bunch of trifoliate
orange seedlings or Changsha tangerines. Changsha has a very
seedy fruit can survive a lot of cold. Still they would have
had to have frozen to the ground a few years ago. The trifoliate
orange is also very cold hardy and has tremendous thorns.
The leaf also has 3 leaflets so it would be easy to distinguish.
This fruit is essentially inedible and the tree is primarily
used as a rootstock.
If indeed the trees are citrus trees, then all
you have to do is take the seeds and place them in a container
with a well- drained potting soil mix in a warm location.
The seeds will come up in a couple of weeks as citrus does
not have a dormancy requirement.
QUESTION: I recently purchased a plant called "Cassia
corymbosa" at a local garden center. It is supposed to
be native to this area, but other than that, they could not
tell me anything about it, and I cannot find anything on it
in any of the books I have on South Texas plants. Would very
much appreciate any info you can provide regarding this particular
ANSWER: Cassia corymbosa, or Flowering Senna,
is not a native Texas plant. It is a native of Argentina.
However, it does quite well here in South Texas as a small
ornamental in normal years, getting to approximately 6 feet
tall. In an extreme winter they can be killed (I lost one
last year when the temperature fell to 18 degrees). They are
striking plants with glossy green foliage and clusters of
yellow flowers from early summer to fall. I would recommend
that you keep it as a potted plant, protecting it from any
freeze, until next spring, and then plant it out in a sunny
location and enjoy it.
QUESTION: I inherited what I call a pencil tree plant from
a former neighbor. It has grown quite large, up over the gutters
on my house. I also have lost some branches in a section just
above the middle part of the plant. It looks as though I have
2 plants with the bare spot. My question is-- can I cut this
plant in the bare area and re-root the top half, or will I
ruin the plant if I do. I love the plant, but it's starting
to look like some of the pine trees around my house-very long
ANSWER: Not having the botanical name of your
plant, I can't be sure what it is. However, if you break off
a small part of it and it bleeds milky sap it is probably
Euphorbia tirucalli. I would take a small cutting, let it
dry in a shaded location for a couple of weeks to form a callous,
and then try to root it in a very well-drained medium. If
this is successful, then get more ambitious.
QUESTION: I'm trying to grow vines from sweet potatoes and
I need to find out exactly how to do that. I have the potato
under water, but the vine doesn't seem to be growing very
fast. Any ideas, hints, etc.?
ANSWER: I'm not sure whether you are trying
to propagate slips for sweet potato vines or just grow an
ornamental vine from the sweet potato. If it is for the propagation
of slips, check this PLANTanswers website:
It provides this answer:
"To produce slips, sweet potato roots should
be laid on their sides in hotbeds about a month before the
nighttime temperatures stay above 60 degrees F. Cover the
sweet potato roots with 2 inches of moist sand and keep the
hotbed between 75 degrees and 80 degrees F. When the sprout
develops, remove them with a twisting tug. Additional transplants
(slips) will form from the bedded sweet potatoes if left in
If you just want to grow a vine, only about
½ of the potato should be under water. You can do this
by placing toothpicks into the side of the potato and suspending
it in a jar or glass of water.
QUESTION: We have 2 large yuccas in a raised bed that have
thrived for 2 years in full sun. In the last 4 weeks, they
have begun to turn brown from the bottom up, and one is now
almost completely yellow. The only change that has occurred
to their environment is the addition of a sprinkler head,
adding to the water they receive. However, we called a Saturday
morning plant show, and the host said the additional water
should not be causing the problem. He told us to look for
maggots (??), but we found none. There are mountain laurels
and asters in the same bed, but they have been there all along.
Do you know what could be causing the decline and what we
can do to save them?
ANSWER: My first reaction would be that you
have probably drowned them. Yuccas require a sunny, dry location
with a well-drained soil and should not be overwatered. The
Mt Laurel, the asters and the Katy Ruellia do not have identical
moisture requirements to the yucca. They can all tolerate
more moisture and in fact the asters and the ruellia will
probably be happy to get it.
QUESTION: I am very interested in planting a
Chinese Pistache in my front yard. I prefer to get a male
plant, because I've read it can have a more dense foliage,
and also because the berries of the female appear to be quite
messy. After talking to some of my local nursery representatives,
I'm extremely frustrated, because I haven't gotten a clear
answer as to whether it is possible to obtain a plant that
is known to be male. (In fact, I've mostly gotten ambiguous
and contradictory answers.) If you have an answer, please
let me know the following: (1) Is it possible to obtain a
Chinese Pistache that is certain to be male? (2) If so, should
I be able to find this in ordinary nursery stock, or will
it require a special order? (3) What precisely should I ask
for, so the nurseryman is able to fill my request with certainty?
ANSWER: The Chinese Pistache is diecious meaning it has a
male tree and a female tree. Theoretically, from any group
of seedlings, 50% will be male and 50% will be female. It
seems that there are more female. The sex of the Chinese Pistache
cannot be determined until it matures (5 to 7 years or longer)
and begins to have fruit (the female) or not have fruit (the
male). Since the Chinese Pistache is difficult to root and
propagate from cuttings, the majority (or all!!) trees are
seedlings that cannot be sexed at an early age. However, remember
that the females differ in the amount of fruit they produce
every other year (they are biennial bears as are pecans and
oaks). The fruit on the female is considered by many to be
an asset in providing fall color (beautiful red berries) and
to attract wildlife (birds and squirrels LOVE the berries!!).
I have never noticed a "mess" under any female Chinese
Pistache because the birds get most of the viable berries
and the non-viable berries (which never color) shrivel up
and can be lawn-mowed into the turf. So, you have to realize
you are getting one of the best trees in the universe and
put this male chauvinistic attitude behind you!!! You really
don't have a choice, since I have never heard of a nursery
which is vegetatively propagating a male selection of the
Chinese Pistache. I assume you are aware of the growth problem
that a flush of juvenile growth on the tree can sometimes
exhibit. If you have the problem (not all trees do it!), get
back to PLANTanswers and we can help you solve this insignificant
QUESTION: We own a house south of Seguin, in the "sand
hills". As you would assume, the soil is very sandy.
We want to plant a tall hedge along the road to shield our
home from view. Preferably something which will grow 4 feet
or higher and is relatively low maintenance. Is there anything
we can plant now, that will survive the winter and grow next
year? Do you have any suggestions?
ANSWER: At this PLANTanswers web site you will
find a list of shrubs that are good for South Texas:
I would suggest that you look around at some
of your neighbor's landscaping and see what is growing well
that you like. Any plants from the list may be planted now
and will spend the winter establishing a root system. I'm
sure that the nice people at Green Gate Nursery would help
you make a selection.
QUESTION: I have a plant that was saved from the trash and
I do not know the official name for it. I have been told it
is a corn plant. It is a single thin trunk with long green
leaves. My problem is that its about 9 feet tall and is hitting
my ceiling. Can I cut it down without killing it? I would
like to cut it back a few feet. Will this cause a new stock
to grow? We live in California.
ANSWER: The plant you describe is Dracaena fragrans
and is commonly called a Corn Plant. Yes, it can be cut back
to the level that you desire and new branches will sprout.
The portion that you cut off can be propagated into new plants
if you wish. To do this you remove the leaves from the severed
section, cut it into small pieces, plant horizontally in your
planting medium and cover them. You can also air layer the
plant at the point you wish to cut it back to and then subsequently
plant that top section in its entirety after it establishes
roots. Here are some PLANTanswer web sites that discuss ornamental