Everything must come to an end, and each year that includes outdoor gardening. Frost comes, leaving gardeners with mixed feelings. The battle against the weeds and insects is diminished, but the beautiful blossoms of summer become history. However, dried flowers let us enjoy blossoms throughout the winter.

There are several different methods for drying flowers. The first is air drying. Dry by hanging them upside down in a warm, dark, dry place for several weeks. Flowers for air drying do not wilt readily and retain color and strength after drying. Avoid damp rooms and direct sun on the flowers. Flowers normally take two or three weeks to dry properly.Among the flowers suitable for air drying are baby's breath, bachelor's button, cockscomb, globe amaranth, scarlet sage and blue sage, sea lavender, statice, strawflower and yarrow.

In addition to the flowers, many different grasses air dry satisfactorily. Avoid noxious weeds, as drying and using them in flower arrangements spreads the problem and is against the law. Weeds to avoid include whitetop, tall white top and various knapweeds.

Many flowers can be dried in desiccating materials. Sand is used, but it's relatively heavy and tends to flatten the flowers. An easier and more popular mix to dry flowers is a mixture of borax and white cornmeal. The white cornmeal is lightweight and does not crush the flowers as easily. Generally about one part borax to three parts cornmeal works well.

Silica gel is the best product for drying flowers. It can be purchased at various craft houses and hobby shops. It dries flowers quickly and can be reused over and over. If the silica gel is not totally dry, spread it on a cookie sheet in a layer a half-inch thick. Bake in an oven at 250 degrees for an hour and it is ready for reuse.

Flowers drying in silica gel must be in airtight containers or the gel will absorb moisture from the air and prevent the flowers from drying. Metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids can be used. It is often advisable to remove the flower head and replace it on a wire stem. Wire stems allow the heads to be easily placed in the flower arrangement.

Among the flowers suitable for drying by burying and which hold their color quite well are anemone, aster, baby's breath, bachelor's button, black-eyed susan, chrysanthemum, dahlia, daisy, delphinium, gloriosa daisy, marigold, neirembergia, pansy, rose, salvia, snapdragon, verbena and zinnia. Flowers in borax and cornmeal normally take two to three weeks to dry, while those in silica gel dry within three to eight days.

The most difficult part is removing the flowers from the drying material. Gently pour the material from the container and as the petals become visible, remove them carefully with fingers or tweezers. Any dust or residue can be removed with an artist's brush or with air. Flowers such as chrysanthemums drop their petals very easy. Reinforce them by using clear glue at the base.

Microwave oven drying provides dried flowers that look fresher and more colorful than those obtained by other methods. Silica gel or other drying materials must be used with heat-tolerant containers suitable for microwaving. Do not cover the containers, and place a cup of water in the oven before starting to prevent excessive drying. Drying times vary from one minute to three minutes depending on the flowers and power. Experiment to refine the process with individual ovens.

After treating, leave the flowers in the drying material from 12 to 24 hours to allow them to cool and dry. Microwaved flowers tend to reabsorb moisture from the air, so spray them with a clear coating such as hairspray, lacquer or plastic spray. Dried flowers should be stored in a dark place in airtight containers. This prevents them from absorbing moisture and discourages insects such as museum beetles, silverfish, roaches or dermestid beetles. If pests are a problem, use mothballs to keep the insects out.

Dried flowers do not last forever. Preferably they should be replaced yearly, but many will last longer. Even the best flowers should be discarded when they are no longer attractive. Faded flowers may be lightly tinted with aerosol paints or dyes to add some color during the dreary months that are coming. It is a fascinating hobby and provides a way to use some of the bounteous beauty from your garden.