How-to: drying and preserving hydrangea blooms

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Loretta Gillespie

CULLMAN – One of the most beautiful blooming plants in our zone is the oakleaf hydrangea (h.quercifolia). Native to this area, the oakleaf hydrangea has blooms that last several weeks; however, if you want to bring them inside and enjoy them for years, just follow these very simple directions.

When summer days begin to get shorter and the blooms of the Limelight and Snow Queen hydrangeas and a few other cultivars are still looking really good on the shrubs outside (even though we are in the midst of a drought) you might want to try preserving them.

If you want to preserve yours, as shown here, you must bite the bullet and cut them now, while they are still vibrant and have not started to turn brown. (Some of them turn a pretty copper color, but for our purposes, we will be using white for this demonstration).

After you have clipped them, strip most of the leaves away from the stems. Trim the stems in varying lengths, you can always make them shorter, but if you cut them too short, you might find that you need a taller bloom in the center of an arrangement.

There is always a hard way and an easy way to do just about anything, so let’s take the easy way!

Arrange your hydrangeas in vases, baskets or on wreaths, just like you would any cut flower. You can even add water to the vases if you want the process to take a little longer, but it’s not necessary.

Position them in your home so that they get no direct sun; but filtered, indirect light is fine.

Then forget about them for about a month. Seriously, just forget about them. No water, no hanging them upside down, nothing…

When they are completely dry, you can leave them in the container you started with if it suits your décor, or, you can make a wreath for your door, a swag for your mantle, or even save them for your Christmas tree!

The only thing you need to be careful about is leaving them prone on a table or countertop while they are drying because it will cause the cluster to be flat on one side.

You can also do this with your pastel-colored hydrangeas. They might dry just a little bit smaller than what you started out with, and you might be able to see between the petals, but that’s quite alright, they will still look great dried.

If you need a different color, you can dye your blooms with Rit fabric dye. Just make up a batch of dye in a disposable container, soak your dried blooms in it for an hour or so, then hang up somewhere that won’t be damaged when the water drips from the blooms.

If you want to use your preserved blooms on your Christmas tree, simply tuck them in at random intervals, until your tree is just like you want it, then add other natural decorations like lily pods, Spanish moss, cinnamon sticks tied with raffia and other elements that compliment the theme.  Bird houses or twigs of the curly willow look great on a natural-themed tree. 

To help keep the delicate petals intact, use clear spray paint. Spray the blooms while on the wreath, in the basket, or vase, let dry, then repeat three times. Using this method helps to keep tiny leaves and petals from falling when you move the arrangement, plus it gives the blooms a little shine.

Enjoy your arrangements for years to come!