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A Gardeners Guide to Drying Hydrangea Flowers

Q? There is no "Q" this week—just a lot of "A"s. And that's because I get the week off, thanks to Terri in Vineland, New Jersey.

A few years back, I tried to help her solve some problems she was having with her hydrangeas on a show we recently repeated (the same problems many people have had, with severe winters killing the plants back to the ground and delaying or cancelling the flowers the following summer). She responded to hearing her call again with a great email about her "avocation of drying flowers", specifically hydrangea blooms.

Actually, it isn't an 'email'—it's a full blown article; and that's why we're giving her the spotlight this week!

Terri writes: "The earliest type of hydrangea to harvest for drying is the Snowball or Annabelle. Also known as the Junebush, it has round blooms that can be very small to quite large and fine, dense florets. As the name implies, they bloom in June; the flowers start out white and begin to turn green in July. Don't harvest them until the blooms are a uniformly vibrant green, because white or pale green flowers will shrivel. Cut the stems to different lengths, so that the blooms can be staggered in a bunch, allowing air to get to each flower. Junebush is my favorite hydrangea; green flowers are special!

"In my New Jersey garden, PeeGee and Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom white in August and begin to change color in September. The PeeGee blooms are round to cone shaped with dense florets. Oakleaf is cone shaped with large blooms and fewer, but larger, florets. Cut PeeGee blooms with some stem attached, but use just the flower heads from Oakleaf plants. You can harvest at the pale green or pink stage. Or even later; the completely brown blooms are lovely, and keep their color for years."

"Cut fresh blooms that appear on the classic 'Mophead' hydrangeas with some stem attached for fresh display, but do so sparingly because the buds on the stems will produce the following season's flowers. For drying, carefully cut the flowers (only) from late August through November. These types can bloom pink, blue, purple or white; with flowers large and small. The smaller heads have firm florets, while the ones on larger heads are more delicate, which makes a difference in how well they dry. Small heads can be cut early, but don't rush larger ones; they'll shrivel if the florets haven't had time to harden.

"The sequence of color change on Mophead flowers will vary by the specific variety and the plants' original color. Blooms that start out blue will take on a pale green tinge; pink ones turn taupe; and white changes to pale green. The colors lose their vibrancy late in the season, but I find these muted colors subtle and charming—and if you leave them on the plant long enough to be nipped by a chill, they'll also develop a burgundy edge.

"Gently remove the leaves if you want to arrange large bunches of mophead flowers with their stems still attached; but make the bunches smaller if you want to keep the leaves in the display. The leaves dry pale green and crinkled, and add a lot of charm to the arrangement."

Terri explains that she uses pinch-style clothespins to attach the fresh flowers to her window curtains, where they dry in a week or two. (But avoid direct sunlight, she warns; it would fade the flower colors.) She says the room looks gorgeous when her curtains are in flower! Once they're dry, store the flowers in containers with lids. She uses cardboard boxes she gets from a local flower shop and tapes the lids closed to keep moths and dampness out.

"The colors will last six to nine months if protected from dampness and direct sunlight. You can use the dried flowers in wreaths, arrangements, or just place them on surfaces to add some cheer to the winter months. But my favorite way to use the dried blooms is on our Christmas tree, tucking ribbon around the tree with clusters of small and large blossoms. The flowers don't need hooks, and they're not breakable, which makes them a safe decoration for kids to do. My flower-loving mom won't let me take the tree down until spring!

"Dried flowers fill the gap between fresh and artificial. They last longer than fresh flowers; and, while they're not as durable as artificial flowers, have the benefit of being 'real'.

"I've been able to dry many kinds of plant material, but I've had the easiest time and best results with hydrangea. And I really recommend planting some—whether you intend to enjoy the flowers fresh or dried. The best locations are the west and north sides of a building where they won't be scorched by the summer sun. After a heavy rain, gently shake off the raindrops before the sun can spoil the wet flowers.

"Sharing this information has been fun. I hope some of your listeners will try drying hydrangeas; and I hope they enjoy their year-round beauty as much as I have!"

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