Strawflowers—long-lasting, colorful, easy, and great as fresh and dried flowers
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Strawflower (Helichrysum bracteatum)
Strawflowers work very well as fresh cut flowers. They produce a lot of flowers making it easy to harvest plenty for both fresh bouquets and for dried flowers.
As dried flowers, their color never seem to fade. They come in a wide array of colors. The flowers are sturdy, papery, straw-like little rosettes that grow on tall-ish plants.
The stems are thick when they’re fresh but when dried they’re shriveled and brittle. I’ll explain below how to work with this.
The best quality about these flowers is that their colors are strong and long-lasting. I have some strawflowers that are many years old and they still look sparkling new.
Flowers can be 1-2 inches or more wide. Colors available include white and soft antique white, bright sulfur yellow, golden yellow, orange, russet red, purple-red, a variety of pinks, and an apricot/peach blend!
This is an annual plant, but I’ve had many over-winter here in USDA Zone 8 in the northern Sierra foothills. Even under snow. But it’s not guaranteed.
They grow quickly for a long summer bloom here. And they keep blooming into November.
There are tall and dwarf sizes available. The tall ones get 3-4 ft. tall, and the dwarfs get 2-2 1/2 ft. tall. They’re well-branched.
Growing the Plants
The seeds are small and instructions always say to sow on the surface because they need light to germinate. But as I describe in Starting Your Seeds I still cover them lightly to hold them in place and keep them from drying out too quickly. (And it keeps me from having to water too often!)
Full sun for these. Average to good garden soil. They are heat and drought tolerant.
I give them 18 inch spacing. And no special pruning, except to harvest to optimize flower production-see below in harvesting.
Harvest strawflowers before they’re fully opened. Once picked, they open further, and they are much prettier before fully opened.
Apply the usual practice of cutting at a lower node or branch. Remember, when you cut at a lower point on the stem, side branches will yield longer stems with bigger blooms.
To Dry: Bundle a bunch of flowers, tie with a rubber band, and hang to dry in a dry, darkish place.
To work with when dry, see below in Special Info.
My favorite varieties are the tall ones (the more prodution, the happier I am). From there it’s color choice. But my experience is when I get a mix, I can only plant so many in my garden, and most of the time I end up with too many of a color I’m not excited about. Those colors are usually the purplish-red and the russet red. So for now I can’t yet recommend a source and blend that has performed well.
The seed mixes change over the years. I favor the pinks, bright yellows, the whites, and the apricot/peaches. Apricot peach is sold as a mix and they’re always beautiful.
I used to be able to get the seed by color, but that is less available now. So you have to try your luck with the mixes. I’ll keep experimenting. Meanwhile, all the strawflowers are still great!
How Many Plants
If you want a lot of plants to dry, 10 plants would give you plenty. (Plus enough to get a good color range from a mix.)
If you want some to dry and some to use fresh, 3-5 plants would be plenty for fun. However, if it’s a mix, you could end up with a poor color range. And if you grow more, you’ll have to take up crafting with these! They do go into wreaths very well! More on that below in Special Info.
Many seed companies carry strawflower seeds: Johnny’s, Pinetree: superseeds.com, Adaptive Seeds, and Swallowtail for starters. I like Pinetree because they have small packets and are very reasonably priced.
How to work with the flowers once they’re dry: When strawflower stems are dry, they shrivel and become brittle, making them a little too fragile to work with. The stems break but not those tough little flowers! There are a couple of ways to deal with this.
One is to work them into wreaths and arrangements while the stems are still pliable and partly dry. The flower could still flop around so position the flower where the other wreath materials can support it.
The other way is to store them dry in a box, and come and do the wreath making in damp weather. I leave my dried flowers in cardboard boxes in a sheltered spot when the weather becomes damp again and wait until the stems are pliable again. This can take a few days. I do this for most of my dried flowers.
Sometimes the stem breaks, regardless. But they’re still so pretty, so you can find places to use them by gluing them.
Another way is to make a bouquet of drying flowers and then hang it upside down altogether to dry, but place the strawflowers so that when dry and upright, they will be supported by other materials.
Many crafters recommend using floral wire to support the flowers. But my work-around has satisfied all the needs I’ve had in working with these flowers. And it takes less time.
You’ll figure out what you need to make what you want. A lot depends on the humidity and climate where you are.