Richard Bogren | 11/23/2016 4:01:43 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
(11/25/16) Our gardens are full of plant materials that can add unique beauty to holiday decorations. Look for attractive foliage, bright berries, decorative cones or pods, and consider materials that can be dried.
Dried materials can be used to create garlands, wreaths and decorative arrangements. They don’t need to be watered and will stay attractive throughout the holiday season, looking just as nice at the end as they did at the beginning. The techniques for drying plant materials are not difficult, and the results are well worth the effort.
There are two basic ways of drying flowers.
Air drying is the simplest method. For air drying, cut flowers that are young or not fully open with stems at least 4 to 6 inches long. Generally, strip off the leaves because they rarely dry attractively. Bundle several stems together and fasten them with a rubber band at the end away from the flower heads. Use an S-shaped piece of wire or unbend a paper clip to make a hanger. Hook one end into the rubber band and the other over a nail or string where the bundle will dry.
The location should be warm with good air circulation but out of direct sunlight. Depending on the size of the flowers and the thickness of the petals and stems, they will dry in one to two weeks. Many flowers air dry well, and you can try virtually anything. Flowers that air dry well include goldenrod, hydrangea, statice, strawflower, celosia, rose buds, yarrow, globe amaranth, grass plumes, rudbeckia, bachelor's buttons and sunflower among others.
The other method of drying flowers involves using a material called silica gel. Fresh flowers are buried in containers of silica gel, a desiccant that rapidly removes the moisture from the flower. The result is a finished product that can look remarkably similar to the flower’s fresh appearance. Flowers are buried face up, and to avoid having to use very deep containers, the stems are usually cut to about 1 inch long. New “stems” are created out of florist wire.
Attractive seed pods also make great additions to dried arrangements. Look for magnolia and pine cones, crape myrtle, sweet gum balls, tallow tree seeds, acorns, pecans (these can be glued into clusters with other nuts) and many others you can find in your yard or along roadsides.
The leafless branches of deciduous trees are excellent to use as line material in dried arrangements. I’ve used oak, sweet gum, crape myrtle and winged elm branches or twigs left natural, gilded or sprayed with artificial snow.
To create a beautifully elegant look much favored by the Victorians, try gilding the foliage or seed pods of certain plants. This is not at all difficult, and the results are spectacular. To gild foliage, spray it with one or two light, even coats of good quality gold spray paint holding the can 6 to 8 inches away from the leaves. Wear latex gloves to keep your fingers clean and hold the branch in your hand rotating it to get even coverage.
The gilding keeps the foliage attractive throughout the holiday season. Any type of seed pod can be gilded. Good foliage to gild does not have to be dried first, but it should be thick and hold its shape well, such as magnolia, holly, pine, fir, juniper, palm fronds, boxwood, live oak and others. Magnolia foliage is perhaps the most beautiful gilded plant material.
An easy way to create a beautiful, long-lasting garland or wreaths with dried materials is to start off with a garland or wreath made of artificial material. Hang the artificial garland where it will be displayed, and then stuff it with dried flowers, foliage, seed pods, etc. You may have to wire a few heavier materials in place, but you will find that most everything that’s been dried is very light and stays in place just fine by pushing it into the artificial garland. Continue stuffing until you have the effect you’re looking for. A wreath can be done on a table and then hung for display. Dried materials can also be arranged in vases or other containers with florist foam.
Beautiful decorations can also be created using plastic foam forms in the shape of pyramids, cones or topiaries. Use hot glue to attach an even layer of sheet moss or sphagnum moss over the form, and then glue on dried materials in a way that you like. These creations make great gifts and can often stay on display year-round.
Save any broken pieces of colorful dried flowers in a plastic bag. When you have collected a cup or two, sprinkle them with fragrant potpourri oils available at craft shops. Shake the bag to distribute the oil over the dried material, then seal it in an airtight container for 10 to 14 days. This homemade potpourri is great to use around the house and makes a wonderful gift for holiday giving.
Celosia is one of the many fall-blooming flowers that can be dried successfully in silica gel crystals. Photo by Allen Owings.
Fountain grass can be dried to add color and texture to dried arrangements. Photo by Allen Owings