January 10, 2021
Over the past 14 years of growing peonies, there has been one question asked many times but one I didn’t think I had an interest—until!! When I saw some peonies dried, I just fell in love with them. I always have a little withdrawal at the end of our season. For weeks on end there is an endless array of beautiful peonies of all shapes, sizes and colors at my disposal. Then-blam-nothing. So now I have the opportunity to grab a few, or a few hundred, and dry them for winter enjoyment. Also, practically, I think they will be great to show at the events we participate in the winter, versus silk.
Other reasons to dry peonies might be you want peonies for a special occasion when they aren’t in season. Or maybe you want to save some of your Grandma’s peonies to surprise her for her birthday or Christmas. Or maybe you want to dry your own bridal bouquets to retrieve on your anniversary to enjoy with the wedding cake in the freezer. Whatever the reason, I hope you enjoy the process and the rewards.
As I started researching, I remembered, I dried flowers to construct an entire headboard when I lived in our beach house in Hawaii. I was also reminded how I loved to go to Pike’s Market in Seattle to purchase dried flowers. So, maybe, dried flowers have always been hanging out somewhere in the back of my mind just waiting for me to realize how beautiful peonies could be dried.
The first step is location. Where are you going to dry your peonies? They need to be in a dry area (not in the damp basement) and they should have circulation, not next to the furnace fan and preferably not the closet. Ideally, the temperature should be above 50F and humidity should be around 50%. Totally dark will ensure colors at their best. Your drying area size will depend on if you are just drying for a bouquet, or if you are going in to the dried peony business. Hmmm. Something for the farmers market maybe?
Harvesting peonies for drying is the same as for fresh use. Cut early in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Look for blooms not quite fully open. For variety, cut a few less open and a few buds. With sharp shears or clippers, cut the stems to about 18 inches. When you process thousands and thousands of peonies, you learn a few short cuts. With quick snaps, remove all but 3 sets of leaves below the flower head, or you can take scissors and cut the leaves from the stems.
Alternately, you can dry the flowers in a desiccant. Silica is the best agent but it takes a lot of material for these big flowers and frankly, I have great luck without going to this expense.
Inspect the blossoms for ugly petals and gently remove. If you live in an area with ants, put the flowers in a vase of cold water and set out in the shade for a few hours. You can also dip the flower heads in a bucket of water to drown the ants but make sure you dry the flowers completely before proceeding to the next step.
When drying it is important to have the flowers separated enough to allow good circulation. You can fasten 2 or 3 stems together with rubber bands, one band about 4 inches form the bottom of the stems and another just below the leaves. BTW, some folks take all the leaves off before drying. I like to leave a few on even though, they don’t dry as nicely as the flowers; they do add something to the arrangements. You can always pull them off later if you don’t like the look.
Tie a string around each bundle of three stems, securing the string to catch on one of the rough spots where you removed a leaf, and hang them upside down in your perfect drying spot. You can hang them from hangers or a rafter or whatever you have, but make sure they have plenty of room for circulation. In about 14 days, they should be ready to enjoy.
When they are totally dry, you can spray them with unscented hairspray to extend their viability.
Dried peonies are great to add to fresh arrangements. It’s OK to put them right in the water with the fresh flowers or you can cut them short and glue them in the bouquets or even make a ‘false’ stem like you have to do sometimes with really short flowers in arranging.
Have fun. You might enjoy drying peonies so much you’ll want to try a few other flowers.