by OCMGA Master Gardener Theresa Granados
When fall arrives I start looking for ways to bring my plants indoors. One way to do that is by drying some of your beautiful garden and display it all winter long without much ongoing care at all! The world of drying and dehydrating is enormous, it’s a mountain of information to climb. I started to pursue the topic based on my own garden, which I will share with you.
I think my crop stays under control partly due to swift cutting in the fall to start drying those lovely orange lanterns to enjoy for years and years.
Picture one above is how they look when I chop more than half my crop down to the ground. It’s around October. I do like to leave a few for color in my garden and cut them down later in the winter. This is one of those plants that just keep on ‘giving’ with a rhizome style root as well as seeds inside that “lantern” pod. I believe this double whammy is one reason why this plant becomes invasive and out of control quickly.
At this point the stems are soft, sturdy but green. Keep the leaves on! Lay them on a flat surface, out of the sun and spread them out. A drying screen would probably help but I have so many I find that just laying them all over my garage is more practical. After a few days of lying flat you can braid two or three of them together. It really fills out the branch for arrangements later. This is where keeping the leaves on helps hold the braid together. Lay flat to dry in a dark but dry area for about a month. Using a drying screen may help cut that timeframe. I clip off the leaves once they are completely dried, trim off anything that doesn’t look attractive and bring them indoors. Put only one or two of the braided into a vase, it will dry further. Once the stems are brown and dry, you can start putting more into a vase together. I’ve kept some of my lanterns for years and they do change over time which adds more character to the arrangements.
My hydrangea bush gives White flowers at first, they form large pom-pom style flower heads. Sometimes the limbs get heavy after a rain where my flowers almost touch the ground. I’ve learned to prune off smaller shoots toward the bottom of the bush so my flower heads now mostly shoot upward. That did t
ake a few years to manicure. There is so much to learn about this bush that seems to do so well in Northeastern Wisconsin. In Mid-October many of the white puff balls turn into a nearly hot pink. I
clip about ¼ of my flower heads with some of the branch. Following the standard protocol for a flowering bush where I clip off old branches (old “wood”) where a generous branch is helpful (up to 3ft). I bring them into my dark & dry garage, keeping leaves on the branch. I seem to have a supply of PVC Piping that did come in handy here, any large mouth vase, a large plastic pitcher or other similar “vase” will work. Prop the newly clipped branches up into that vase, the longer your branch the taller the vase will need to be. Those flower heads are heavy! Keep only one or two in each vase, if they touch they will most likely mold. Once the leaves are dried pull them off , then once the branch is dried, which will turn brown, it is ready to put into an arrangement.