How to Preserve Fall Leaves

Keep those wonderful golds, rich reds, and vibrant oranges around all year long.

Kaylee Hammonds
Fall Pumpkin Tableau
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

Those familiar with the fabulous creations of Southern Living flower guru Buffy Hargett Miller know that she’s fond of keeping things easy and often uses things cut from the yard or garden. Often, in her fabulous fall tableaux (such as this one), bright fall leaves play a role. Sure, you can use the leaves au naturel for decorating, but if you’d like to preserve your fall bounty, we’ve rounded up a few ways to keep those leaves worth peeping, far past their fall prime.

Sandwich. One of the most popular methods is also one of the simplest: sandwich leaves in between two sheets of wax paper and then iron on high. Flip over your “sandwich” of leaves and paper, and iron on high again. Make sure that the wax has transferred to the leaves. Let cool, and voila! Lightly waxed leaves. This method won’t preserve color perfectly, but your leaves will stay bright for longer than if left untreated.

Dip. Perhaps a natural extension to this method is dipping your bright leaves into melted wax. Use a double boiler to melt beeswax, but don’t allow it to boil. Dip leaves in wax and shake off excess. Hang to dry by the stems, and then use for wreaths, tablescapes, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Soak. Another popular method uses a glycerin bath to preserve flame-like foliage. This is achieved by mixing two parts water to one part glycerin (Can’t find it? Grab some here.), and letting the leaves soak in the mixture for between three and five days. Let the leaves dry completely. When dry, they should be supple and ready to use. Note that the red leaves may fade a bit, but yellow leaves respond to the treatment well. This method can also be applied to branches with leaves still attached, which makes a nice base for a wreath or fall garland.

Press. Take a page out of your kindergarten book and press your leaves. Sandwich leaves between two sheets of paper and place under a stack of books. Or, if you think this is something that you might like to repeat say, with spring flowers, invest in a flower press.

Laminate. If you love to play with office supplies, then bust out your laminator (or, you know, go to Kinko’s or wherever), and sheathe your leaves in plastic. This method is great because it yields sturdy, shiny leaves that are great for kids’ crafts.

Microwave. A small, but vocal minority of crafters is in favor of microwaving leaves in order to preserve them. Start by microwaving for thirty seconds, and if the leaves aren’t dry, continue to microwave in five-second bursts until dry but not brittle.

Whatever your preservation method of choice, it’s nice to have a number of ways to keep fall’s bounty fresh-looking. A bright tabletop or arrangement will be a welcome reminder of autumn long after all of the leaves have dropped and tree branches are bare.