How to Preserve Fall Leaves

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

Fall Pumpkin Tableau
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn. Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

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 cuttings from the yard or garden. Often, in her fabulous fall tableaux, bright fall leaves play a role. Sure, you can use the leaves au naturel for fall decorating and let them fade to brown, but if you'd like to preserve the colors in your fall bounty, we've rounded up a few ways to keep those leaves in their original yellows, oranges, and reds, long after you collected them.

Method 1: Sandwich the Leaves in Wax Paper

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.

Method 2: Dip Your Leaves in Wax

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 the excess. Hang them to dry by the stems, and then use for fall wreaths, tablescapes, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Method 3: Soak in Glycerin

Another popular method uses a glycerin bath to preserve flame-like foliage. This is achieved by mixing two parts of water to one part glycerin. Let 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.

Method 4: Press Under Books

Take a page out of kindergarten and press your leaves in a book. Sandwich the leaves between two sheets of paper and place them under a stack of books. Or, if you think this is something that you might like to repeat with, say, spring flowers, invest in a flower press. Check on the leaves every few days and remove them when completely dry. Pressing helps the leaves dry more quickly and retain color, but it may not preserve them for as long as other methods.

Method 5: Laminate with Plastic

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. Then cut them out, leaving a border around each leaf to keep it sealed. This method is great because it yields sturdy, shiny leaves that are great for kids' crafts.

Method 6: Microwave Your Leaves

A small but vocal minority of crafters is in favor of microwaving leaves in order to preserve them. Sandwich the leaves between two paper towels. Start by microwaving for 30 seconds, and if the leaves aren't dry, continue to microwave in five-second bursts until dry but not brittle. Remove woody stems and watch them carefully, as leaves can scorch if they are microwaved for too long. After the leaves are completely dry, spray them with an acrylic spray.

Method 7: Decoupage Your Leaves

Use a craft glue like Mod Podge to decoupage, or glue your leaves to paper, wood, glass, and more. The shiny glue seals color in without flattening the leaves, allowing your fall crafts to maintain texture and dimension. Mod Podge dries clear, but has a glossy surface and tends to darken colors slightly.

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 arrangement or other fall leaf decorations will be a welcome reminder of autumn long after all of the leaves have dropped and tree branches are bare.

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