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How to Press Flowers, Leaves, and Herbs

Instructions and basic techniques for pressing flowers and foliage.

 

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Birds and Flowers

"How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers" - a cute little book from my collection. Over a century old, fully scanned. scans are copyright annepost 2008


A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes.  ~ Barbara Borland

Professional Botanical Plant PressesProfessional Herbarium Style Botanical Flower Press

The larger press measures 12x18, is Open Frame-Work Botanical Press for Plants and Flowersconstructed of Oak, and withstands hard usage. The smaller flower press is 6x9; I keep these in my car.

There are some flowers that press great but have poor color retention no matter what you do. It's ok, you can dye your pressed flowers, and when done right you can't even tell they've been dyed. Match the original color, or change the color. It's easy.

Pressing Flowers

I encourage anyone who wants to work with pressed flowers to try and press your own. Pressing flowers can be very gratifying in itself and will add to the enjoyment of creating a finished pressed flower piece.

There are several good methods for pressing flowers. We'll cover some of the basics here. The menu above will take you to pages with more specific and detailed pages covering everything from pressing difficult flowers, to a tutorial on dyeing your pressed flowers.

Flower Preparation (optional) - For best results pick your flowers at their freshest and press when there is no moisture on them. It's helpful to properly condition your flowers if you can't press them immediately upon picking them. The colors are better when you take this extra step.

Pressing The Flower:

  • If you don't press your plants right away put them in a zip-lock bag and place in refrigerator, never freeze. Blow into the bag before sealing; the carbon dioxide will help your flowers stay fresh.
  • When preparing the flower for pressing some thought should be given as to how it will look when flattened. Avoid allowing parts to overlap unless for artistic effect.
  • Large and/or succulent plants are best preserved by cutting both longitudinal and transectional (from different specimens) sections and drying these. More details can be found on my page about pressing succulents and cacti.
  • Leaves should normally be laid out flat. Thick flowers can be split with a sharp knife and opened flat with their internal parts face up.

Padding and Desiccant: For best results, thick or fleshy plant material should be padded when pressing and desiccant should be used. You can buy blotter paper impregnated with desiccant but it is expensive and you still need to deal with the padding.


Easiest: Pressing Flowers in Books - Place flower between 2 sheets of paper to protect the pages of the book. Leave at least 1/8" of pages between pressings, weigh the book down and wait a couple of weeks.

Alternatively, you can put the book with flowers and paper in the microwave and zap in short bursts, 30 seconds to a minute at a time Let cool between zaps, opening your press to let moisture/steam escape while cooling. Don't over do it; avoid burning your flowers. Repeat until almost done, then put in a different book or flower press to finish drying. Try it, it works well!

I use an old set of encyclopedia Britannica that I picked up at a garage sale for under $10 for pressing flowers. They look better than a stack of phone books and you come across some interesting info as you press. Bonus, the quality of paper is much better than a phone book. This can make a difference.


Make Your Own Simple Wooden Press:

Cut  2 boards, drill holes in the corners and hold them together with a long bolt and wing nut.

Cut pieces of cardboard and blotting paper (or newsprint) to fit between the boards, and layer it: wood, cardboard, blotting paper, plain white paper, flowers, plain white paper, blotting paper, cardboard, then repeat your layers etc. Place the other piece of wood on top and tighten the wing nuts.

You might want to drill a few holes in your wood to help with ventilation, but don't compromise the strength of your flower press.


Flower Presses - You can buy a flower press or make your own. Personally, I prefer a specially made botanical flower press made with no metal because it allows greater air circulation and can be used in the microwave or left to air dry. It could be hard to make your own though, unless you're good with wood-working. I had mine made by a woodworker to my specifications. (Using dowels rather than screws, with sewn on Velcro straps) If you want more information on making this type of flower press contact me and I'll tell you.


Microwave Pressing - For good results you can use a microwave flower press or use books. Start out by setting your microwave to 1 minute, remove your book or press to let it cool and then put it back in for an additional 30 seconds, let cool, and repeat until your flowers are almost dry ... avoid over cooking your flower and leaves! It will damage the pigments in your flowers, the color may come out great, but they will certainly fade in a few months.

While microwave flower pressing will give you pressed flowers quickly, the down side is that you're limited in how much you can press at a time. To save time, consider working with 2 or 3 books or flower presses, and zap one while the others cool, and alternate.

While still in the paper, place your flowers in a book or flower press to finish pressing. This normally takes anywhere from a few hours to a day depending on the plant material you're pressing.

If you want to press a lot, the microwave can be impractical; you just can't put a lot of flowers in at the same time. But for a few, it can work out nicely.

Custom Made Microwave Flower Press

Created like a Botanical Flower Press but smaller. This is my design, using wooden dowel rather than screws so it's microwave safe. This is sized smaller and is expandable to allow for pressing more flowers at once.

Lee Valley Microwave Presses

Available in 2 sizes; 6-1/2" x 6-1/2" or 8-3/4" x 8-3/4" Comes with 2 wool pads, 2 sheets of broadcloth, and two kiln-fired terra cotta slab to moderate drying and prevent over cooking.

Soapstone Microwave Flower Press

Thermal properties with V-shaped vapor holes allow flowers to dry evenly. This flower press comes with 2 absorbent pads, 2 cotton liners, and 2 soapstone tiles.

Microfleur Flower Press

Microwave flower press works well with thin flowers. It comes in 2 sizes; 9" and 5" square. Comes with 3 thick wool pads.

You should have differing results with any of these flower pressing methods. Different flowers press better with different methods, so experiment. The variety of flowers and plant materials to press is so great that you may want a couple of different flower presses to be well covered. A flower that presses well in one type of press may do poorly in another type of press. You can keep notes.

There are many examples of flowers that press well on other pages of this site, as well as pressed foliage, and other botanicals that press well.

If I could only have one flower press I would choose a botanical press. I sometimes see flower presses made of solid wood with either metal buckle straps or wing nut fasteners that are referred to as "botanical presses" This is not accurate. A professional style botanical press should have the open frame-work design to allow air to move more freely about resulting in flowers that dry quicker, and therefore keep their colors tbe best as possible.


Advanced Pressing Methods - The methods discussed on this page work well with basic flat flowers and leaves. You will need to put more effort into such things as pressing open roses, pressing orchids, magnolia, lilies, succulents and cacti, and making skeleton leaves but it can be done.

As lilies open, it is vitally important to remove the stamens to prevent staining the flower. These can be pressed separately if you want them, and reassembled when you use the flowers

Pressing Fruits and Vegetables can be difficult, but with proper Fruit and Vegetable Preparation you can get some pretty good results.

In some cases it helps to treat your foliage and leaf materials with a little glycerin or fabric softener solution before pressing, especially with fall leaves. Just mix with warm water, spray it on, and allow the leaves to dry to the touch before pressing. This is not the same as preserving with glycerin so your colors won't be affected.

Get glycerin from a pharmacy or craft store and mix it with either water or alcohol.

Remember...  When in doubt give it a try! Have some fun, experiment, and never stop playing!