Big, blousy hydrangea blossoms are one of the very easiest flowers to dry. The blossoms come in shades of blue, pink, mauve, and green and their petals turn papery as they age. You can actually let hydrangeas dry right on the shrub, but its more fun to bring them indoors and enjoy them as they dry. The most common hydrangeas are Hydrangea macrophylla . These old fashioned flowers are divided into two groups: hortensias, which have big, ball shaped clusters of blossoms, and lacecaps, which have a lace-like center of small flowers ringed with bigger showy blossoms. The hortensias keep their shape better than lacecaps when dried.
When the hydrangea flower clusters first emerge, they are generally loose and the individual flowers are slightly pointy and chartreuse. As the flowers mature their overlapping, whorled petals grow larger and color up. The mature flowers look attractive on the shrub for several month, but they undergo a transformation as they age. Their colors often change, sometimes taking on a greenish tone or fading, and the petals become drier and less pliant.
The key to drying hydrangeas is to pick them at the right time. If you cut the heads while they are young and fresh, they tend to wither. It's best to wait and cut the heads when the petals turn papery. If you live in a drier climate, you can leave the flowers on the shrub and harvest them when they are almost fully dry (usually in late September or early October). But if you'd like to enjoy the flowers as they dry, you can cut the heads off the shrubs and bring them indoors.
Use sharp scissors or pruners to cut the hydrangea heads, along with 8 to 10 inches of stem, from the shrubs. Strip off all the leaves from each stem and then place the bare stems into a clean vase filled about 1/3 to 1/2 full with water. Set the vase in a spot indoors out of direct sunlight and allow the water to evaporate. Do not refill the vase with water. Allow it to go completely dry. This allows the flowers to continue to slowly dehydrate and prevents the petals from withering. Fully dry hydrangeas retain their shape and color for at least 6 months and they are a cheerful reminder of summer during the fall and winter.
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Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Kitchen Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Images: All images by Willi Galloway)