Hydrangeas are a sight of summer – their colorful flowers line borders in shades of pink, blue, white and purple. Those in the right climates may be lucky enough to get a second bloom later in the season or come fall.
If you’ve killed hydrangeas throughout their growing season, and find it difficult to share some of those beautiful flowers, drying hydrangeas is the perfect way to keep these beautiful flowers present in your environment.
It’s easy to do, pretty quick and very on budget. Not to mention, dried flowers require no maintenance, so they make great low-maintenance additions to a thriving indoor plant display. And while their color could be more muted, they add great texture to your scheme.
What is the best way to dry hydrangeas?
There are a few methods of drying or preserving hydrangea flowers. One is a hydration method that will preserve the flowers better, the other more classic (and faster) way works through forced dehydration. In addition, you can use the stricter method with silica gel.
Sophie-Warren Smith, a UK-based wedding florist @theprettiestposy (opens in new tab) dry hydrangeas usually cut fresh from the garden by using them in beautiful seasonal bouquets. She notes how it comes down to a little trial and error to find the best method for you and your type of flower.
‘I have the leave in a vase while the water runs out and it worked. The reason this works is because it allows them to slowly dry out as the water evaporates and preserves them better.’
Prepare to dry hydrangeas
Whichever of the three main drying methods you use, if you are using your own hydrangea flowers, it is important to cut at the right time and in the right place.
Warren-Smiths notes: ‘There are two drying options that have good success rates, both involve cutting the hydrangea head once the mini flower buds in the center have opened.’ We have also listed a good option for drying and preserving flowers for better color.
As when pruning hydrangeas, you’ll want to use your best secateurs – to ensure they’re clean. I like Felco’s Model 12 secateurs (opens in new tab) as they have good grip and are perfect for this kind of work. It’s always wise to wear gardening gloves too, but you don’t want anything too loose, so try to choose a comfortable design (opens in new tab).
If you are growing your own hydrangeas, you should first check that you are taking good care of yours and then rather than cutting a freshly sprouted flower, you actually want to let it dry a little on the stem until the leaves turn papery and the color will also shifted a bit.
If, like me, you bought your hydrangeas at a flower market, choose the most vibrant heads you can and you can let them age at home before starting the drying process.
In the same breath, you still want a flower that is full and with few defects, as drying can often emphasize this. Make your cut just above a bud/knot, leaving a fairly long stem from the base of the flower (12 to 20 inches) so you have enough length to work with decor-wise once they are dried.
Once cut, remove any leaves and place your stems in a vase with a small amount of water before choosing how to proceed.
1. The hydration method
‘The first option is to place the stem or stems in a vase with an inch of water, this is called the hydration method.’ Shares Warren-Smith.
This is a slow method, so you want to keep one to two inches of the stems in water, leaving space between the flowers for good air circulation. Keep them in a dark, warm space like a cleaning closet and top up with water when it all evaporates. Your hydrangeas should be dried within two to three weeks.
2. The upside down method
This is the method I chose to dry my hydrangeas, which I picked up at Columbia Road flower market in London. I didn’t plan on drying them, but those flowers were too pretty to compost or throw away and I had a cool vase to fill.
Warren-Smith notes how this is actually the more traditional way to dry flowers
It is worth noting that I left them in their vase with a little water for a while, aka until the flowers started to get a little more papery – the best time for drying.
At that point I used string to tie the ends and hung them upside down in a cleaning closet until they dried out completely. It only took a few weeks.
Color wise I like natural earth tones, to match my indoor plants, and it was also fall at the time so I chose a green and a more burgundy flower.
Both colors penetrated quite well, as they were exposed in fairly bright rooms for the beginning of the drying process.
3. Silica gel method
If you really want to preserve the color of bright hydrangea flowers to use in home decor, create a custom frame, DIY garland or some other cool craft, you can try a silica gel specifically for drying flowers like ACTIVA Art Silica Gel (opens in new tab) which you can pick up on Amazon. This should reduce the drying time to about a week, depending on the variety of hydrangea you have and its water content.
For example, Hydrangea macrophylla (fat tops and mop head) is one of the most commonly grown hydrangeas, and usually requires more water, so it can take longer to dry out and preserve completely compared to Hydrangea arborescens or quercifolia.
Wear protective glasses, a mask and gloves for this. The silica gel particles can become airborne and you don’t want to inhale them.
Fill a plastic container with some of the silica gel, insert your hydrangeas and cover the heads. You may have to do it diagonally if you have kept the stem for a long time. Keep somewhere dark and out of reach of pets and children. This should take a week or so. When the petals look papery but not brittle, gently remove the flower heads, tapping off any remaining silica gel granules with a soft-bristled paint brush (opens in new tab) to help.
How do you dry hydrangeas to keep their color?
If you store and dry purple or other brightly colored hydrangea from an acidic soil type, too much sunlight can bleach the petals. Warren-Smith adds: ‘Whichever method you choose, placing your hydrangea heads in a warm dry and dark place – pantry or air cupboard – seems to help retain the colours. Dark hydrangea heads hold the colors better, so choose varieties that have deeper shades. If they dry in daylight or near the sun, the leaves will bleach.’
Other than that, drying hydrangea flowers with a silica gel should preserve their color quite effectively if you have chosen a bright flower.
So it’s a bit of trial and error, but whichever way you choose, you’re sure to end up with preserved flowers that will add texture and a touch of sophisticated design interest to your setting. Warren-Smith adds “I think it’s important to remember that whatever method you use to dry them, they are delicate and easily damaged.” So be sure to keep them out of the reach of pets or children to increase their survival rate!