Preserve Flowers 101: Silica Gel

There are different ways to preserve flowers. You can simply tie up the stems and hang the flowers upside down in the air. The petals usually crinkle a lot due to the slow dehydration, but financially, it costs $0. People like drying roses this way and the result can be still stunning.

Flower industry and some artists like using freeze drying machines to preserve flowers. The same technology is also being used in food industry like dry fruits. The color of the flowers can be preserved for years if you keep them from direct sun. Japanese artist Azuma Makoto uses this way to preserve plants with the entire roots to create his artwork for fashion shows. A freeze drying machine, however, can cost a few thousand dollars but still, doesn’t guarantee the best result.

dried roses
Fresh Roses VS. Dried Roses with Silica Gel

So what is an affordable way to preserve flowers with the best result? The secret is: silica gel. You can get it in any craft store, and it costs around $10 per gallon. And you can use it over and over again. One time purchase, and forever consume!

Choose the Right Silica Gel

What is silica gel? You can find more information on Wikipedia if you are a science geek. But remember last time when you bought a new pair of shoes or a gadget and there’s a small bag with beads inside telling you not to eat it? That’s it! It is a desiccant absorbing water from the air. You can use it to dry flowers quickly. It can absorb moisture out of the flowers in a few days and keep the flowers in a delicate shape and nice color for a long time. The petals won’t have wrinkles either compared with air-dried flowers.

You can find multiple brands of silica gel in the store. The texture, however, can be very different. Some are like plastic beads and some are like sand. For the best result of dried flowers, choose the texture of those similar to sand. The silica beads function the same, but they will leave round marks on the petals because of the large size of the crystals. I use Panacea Flower Drying Crystals to dry my flowers, and its blue indicating materials can guide you when to stop using it for a bake.

SIlica Gel to Dry Flowers

Dry Flowers in Silica Gel

Before you burry the flowers in silica gel, get some plastic containers of good sizes first. The largest container I have is a 58 Qt. storage bin, so I can burry the entire flowers with stems, such as hydrangeas, for flower arrangements. The size of the container depends on the way how you want to arrange the flowers afterwords. Make sure the container has a cover so the silica gel won’t absorb extra moisture from air which slows down the dehydration process. You can follow the steps below to dry your flowers:

  1. Put a thin layer of silica gel at the bottom of the container.
  2. Trim the flowers and throw away bad petals/leaves. Gently open the flowers a little so the silica gel can go in between petals easily.
  3. Place the flowers in silica gel and add more silica gel slowly and evenly inside and outside for the best shape.
  4. Shake the container a few times before burying the entire flowers so the silica gel can fill all space inside the flowers.
  5. Cover the container for 5-7 days until the flowers are fully dried.

When adding more silica gel, I prefer to use a measuring cup with funnel spout. Especially when there are dozens of flowers placed next to each other, the funnel spout can directly pour the silica gel into the space under the flowers. It can also slow down the pouring speed so the silica gel can fill the space between the petals evenly.

Funnel Spout Cup

How to Bake Silica Gel For Reuse

When silica gel absorbs too much moisture, the blue indicator will turn to pink or white. So you know it’s ready to bake it before using it to dry more flowers. Generally the instruction would suggest to bake silica gel at 250F for 1-2 hours. From my own experience, it works well if you use a small oven or if you put a thin layer of silica gel in the pan. But because I use tons of silica gel to dry my flowers and I don’t want to spend a few days to bake all of them, I bake it at 400F in a large pan in the kitchen oven. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to finish. I stir it every 30 minutes to ensure it heats evenly as the silica gel attaching to the sides and the bottom of the metal pan turns to blue more quickly. Don’t level up the temperature above 400F because it can easily burn the silica gel to dark.