by Mark Whitelaw
The fall rose garden is one of splendor and grace. Blooms abound as temperatures cool in the fall, and preserving some of them through winter's long grip is both fun and rewarding. Essentially there are four preservation methods: air-drying, moisture transfer, freeze-drying, and coating. All methods preserve the rose in one form or another and to varying degrees of permanence and retained fragrance.
Before you start:
Selecting the right rose is important. Choose roses after the blooms have dried of morning dew and irrigation. Select blooms a day or so before they are fully opened, and insure they are free of defects caused by insects or sprays. As the blooms dry, minor imperfections are magnified and make the dried blossom appear unsightly.
Remember that the dried blossom will not retain the same color as the living bloom. Select medium- or light-colored roses in the pink, red, yellow or orange tones. Dark reds, purples and mauves will dry very dark and sometimes turn black. White and blush pink roses will often turn dingy brown.
Insure the blooms are insect-free. Some insect eggs or larvae can survive the drying process, and will destroy your dried bloom in short order. Do not spray the rose with pesticides after the bloom is chosen, however. The surfactants used in the pesticide may cause the bloom to spot or brown during the drying process. Two techniques for "debugging" the bloom are 1) dipping the rose in a mild soap and water solution, then hanging it upside down to dry of surface moisture, or 2) lightly dusting the rose with silica aerogel or diatomaceous earth that has been laced with pyrethrin, then gently shaking out the excess dust. Yet another technique is to kill them with heat and mothball vapors.
By far, this preservation method is the easiest and involves the least amount of special equipment. All that is required is your rose, some florist wire or a recycled twist-tie, a paper clip and a dry, dark closet.
Once you have selected your roses, remove the lower leaves and bind a few of the stems together with the florist wire. It is important to keep the blossoms from touching each other; otherwise, they will dry unevenly and may discolor or misshapen where the petals touch.
Open the paper clip so that it makes a small s-hook. Slip one end under the binding wire and hang the other end on a coat hanger or length of stretched twine inside your closet. Hanging the roses upside down by their stems helps keep the blooms' shape during the drying process, which varies by temperature and humidity, usually taking from 5 to 10 days.
Using this method of drying preserves some of the rose's fragrance. It also preserves the stem which may or may not be used in arranging the dried roses for presentation or display.
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This drying technique involves the use of an absorbent which desiccates the rose by transferring the moisture from the petals to another medium. The most common medium for this method is silica aerogel, sold as "silica" in the crafts stores. Other drying agents include sand, cornmeal and borax. Using this method preserves the blossom more true to its original color and shape, but does not preserve much of the fragrance.
Prune away most of the stem, leaving a inch or so below the calyx. Choose a container which can be sealed and place an inch or so of silica in the container's bottom. Place the blossom upright and atop the silica layer. Gently separate the petals, positioning them to a desired final shape, and sprinkle additional silica around and in between each petal. Seal the container for 3 to 5 days, depending on the size of the bloom.
This method may require a bit of experimentation to determine how fast the bloom will dry. You can check the bloom periodically, but remember to recover it with the silica after each check.
A derivation of this technique is to use the silica in combination with a microwave oven. Instead of taking several days, the process can be reduced to a few minutes.
Freeze-drying flowers is essentially a process of transferring (or "sublimating") the moisture from the rose to a container using a cold vacuum chamber. The process is slow and unless you plan on going into the business of freeze-drying flowers, it can be very expensive.
There are, however, special occasions where preserving your rose may be worth having someone do it for you. And, as you might expect, there are companies who specialize in this task. Check your phone directory's yellow pages for companies in your area that can perform this service for you. Or, if you are interested in purchasing roses or arrangements using someone else's roses, you can visit the internet for any number of services to assist you. After a quick search, two I found were Accents & Flowers and Flying B Bar Ranch. And, of course, bring your credit card.
Still another method of preserving roses is dipping them in hot paraffin - a technique dating back at least to Victorian times. This process does not dry the rose, rather the process encapsulates it. Consequently, the rose usually lasts only 7 to 14 days. Still, the process can be fun and rewarding if you are trying to preserve blooms for a special holiday arrangement.
Regardless of the technique you employ for preserving your roses, a great deal of personal satisfaction can be gained by extending the bloom beyond its season and sharing it with family and friends.