How to Cut and Dry Hydrangeas to Use in Easy Floral Centerpieces
Hydrangeas—beloved by home gardeners for their versatility and low-maintenance growing conditions—are also a popular bloom for dried arrangements that admirers can display for years. Though varieties with tighter "mop head-style" blooms—like Endless Summer—dry the best, according to Millie Marzec, co-owner of Washington state flower supplier Hydrangea Rangers, cone-shaped panicle hydrangeas will also work. As opposed to preserved hydrangeas, which are cut at the peak of their bloom and processed with chemicals to maintain their color, dried hydrangeas are allowed to naturally give up their moisture in a chemical-free process that results in subtle shades of green, pink, tan, aqua, and lavender. Once dried, the blooms work well mixed with other dried flowers, secured to wreaths, or presented as single, eye-catching statement pieces, and the process is simple—even for beginners. "All you have to do is be in tune with your flowers, and watch, and experiment," says Marzec.
When to Cut Hydrangeas for Drying
Hydrangeas dry best when you allow them to remain on the bush past their prime, cutting them when they begin to dry naturally toward the end of the season. "If you cut them too soon, they shrivel up," says Marzec, who recommends waiting until late summer—or even early fall for late-blooming varieties—to cut your stems. Pay close attention to the leaves, which start to feel papery and less fresh, and to the petals, which will begin to fold under as the colors fade, she says. The bloom's color is also a key factor, says Chris Link, co-owner of Nebraska-based online nursery Plant Addicts. "Most hydrangea flowers start off a certain color, like green or white, and turn into a different color, like pink or red," he says. "So just cut the flower when it's the shade of color you want, but before the flower turns brown."
Aim to cut flowers with a stem of about 12 to 18 inches, which will look best in a displays, and be sure to strip any leaves before drying. "On some hydrangeas that bloom on old wood, it would be best to not cut down on the stems too far, because you could impact next year's blooms," says Link. "This would only be worrisome if you cut the flowers off very late in the year—the flowers would likely be brown by this point."
How to Dry Hydrangeas
Air drying hydrangeas requires only patience, though the specific process you should follow comes down to preference. Marzec prefers to hang her blooms individually, upside down, on a clothesline using clothespins. This technique, in her experience, allows for the fastest drying time and a minimum of flattened petals for her customers. She recommends hanging the flowers in a dry, dim space; humidity and cool weather increase the drying time, while too much direct light can cause the colors to fade too much. For smaller quantities, Link uses a slightly different process. "One can cut the blooms, strip off the leaves, arrange them in a vase, with or without water, and leave them to dry," he says. "It is not necessary to hang hydrangeas upside down to dry unless the stems are very thin and weak."
An Alternative Drying Method
For a brighter, mid-summer shade on dried blooms, silica—found at many craft and hobby stores—dries flowers with less dramatic fading. This technique requires surrounding the bloom with silica but demands a careful touch: If your bloom touches the container, you risk damaging the flower's shape. Carefully pour silica around the flower and in between each individual petal to suspend the flower in the crystals; it should dry in about four days while maintaining the original shade. "The silica can get expensive," says Link, "but this is the best way to preserve the vibrant colors of the flowers."