You can easily make your very own beautiful tie dye flowers by leveraging a basic concept of plant physiology – Osmosis! White flowers can be beautiful and there just might be some at our wedding but until then, we can’t stop experimenting with color. Here’s how we did it!
Materials to Tie Dye Flowers
- Fresh white flowers (we recommend roses and lilies – even better if you can find some imperfect ones on sale are your local grocery store… we found the big gorgeous bouquet in our video for only $9!)
- A set of food coloring (we used this pack of red, blue, green and yellow)
- Several glass cups, jars, containers, etc. (glass so you can see your colors, but not required)
- Cutting board and thin cutting knife
- A pitcher of water
Estimated Cost: $20 ($15 for flowers, $5 for food coloring)
Estimated Time: 1 hour preparation, 12-24 hours of osmosis magic!
Step 1: Prepare flowers and dye
Dry the stems of the flowers you have selected for dyeing and Leave the flowers out of water for 30-60 minutes before the experiment so that they are particularly thirsty. This step will slightly reduce the time they need to sit in the water. Cut the stems of your flowers to the desired height, and keep in mind that they will need to be able to comfortably sit in the water containers you have selected.
Determine how many different colors you want to absorb into each flower. We had lots of fun experimenting with many different combinations. To get the tie dye affect, carefully split the stems into halves, thirds, or fourths, or however many colors you want to use with each flower. Use as thin a knife as possible, and do your best to evenly split the stem without scraping away the xylem inside.
Step 2: Place flowers into the dye
Fill your glass containers with water and dye and place sections of the stems into different colored containers. Be generous with how much food coloring you put into the water in order to get deep hues. Feel free to get creative by mixing colors as well. If you split a stem and put half in red and half in yellow you will also see some orange emerging amidst the clearly yellow and red, but not as much as if you had mixed the orange ahead of time.
Step 3: Place flowers into the dye
Now you wait. Some color should start emerging after the first hour but let them sit for as long as you can wait because they keep getting better! We stopped after about 24 hours. One of our favorite flowers was created by changing a stem from one color to another after about 12 hours which created a gorgeous halo effect. When you’re finished, place your tie-dyed flowers in a vase of clear fresh water, add some flower food mix if the store gave you any, and enjoy!
The Science Of It All
Normally flowers will pull water from their roots all the way up to their leaves and petals where they use it to make food through photosynthesis. Flowers with their roots cut will still be able to absorb water through xylem which is a system of tine hollow tubes that behave similarly to a bundle of straws sucking the water upwards. Once the water arrives in the petals, it proceeds to evaporate out of microscopic holes in the plant in a process called transpiration. Food dye doesn’t evaporate with the water, and is left behind in the petals which results in the beautiful coloring. This is a fun experiment to learn about plant structures, but more critical to understand is that by using this same process harmful chemicals and pollutants can contaminate the vegetables we eat or the plants we live with.
In florist terms the method is called the absorption method, and the dye results can be controlled by monitoring the time the flower spends in the water; generally the longer time the flower spends in the colored water, the deeper the shade will turn.
What to do if your flowers don’t change color?
Some flowers as you can see in the video just aren’t as conducive to picking up the colors as others. This can often be due to the flowers having herbaceous vs. woody stem types. We learned that roses and lilies are almost always a safe bet. Lilies were definitely our favorite. You can learn more here about choosing the right flowers. You can also try giving them some more time, we gave our flowers nearly a day to get the coloring in the photos. Oftentimes if you accidentally chose woody stem types it can take them multiple days to show color. Also consider dumping in a whole bottle of food coloring to see if it helps! More is always better (depending on what color you’re looking for). If all else fails, take to the following infamous back-up plan:
We hope you enjoyed this tutorial for how tie dye flowers using osmosis. Try it for yourself and be sure to share your results with us!