How to preserve fall foliage

Although you can’t make the leaves stay on the trees, you can extend that fall feeling by collecting and preserving leaves to use later.

Rural color, via Ohio Department of Natural Resources. (

For a lot of Midwesterners, Autumn is the most ideal of the four seasons.

It allows you to escape the cold, snowy conditions of winter and rainy weather through the spring. It’s a pleasant break from the heat of the summer. It’s definitely the most colorful.

It’s certainly my favorite, but there’s one problem I have with fall.

It comes and it goes so quickly there’s hardly enough time to enjoy all the sights, smells and crisp weather. I’ll be surprised if every major grocery store isn’t packed with Christmas stuff before the end of Halloween.

Although you can’t make the leaves stay on the trees, the weather is sure to dip even colder and the smell of pumpkin spice is going to fade with the introduction of peppermint, you can extend that fall feeling by collecting and preserving leaves to later use for a wide variety of crafts.

Selection and collection

It’s best to collect leaves that haven’t already started to dry and curl. Leaves that still maintain their shape and vibrant color will be easier to preserve and later use.

It’s also important to select leaves that aren’t excessively wet.

Pick a variety of colors and shapes and store them in a plastic bag out of the sun until you’re ready to preserve them.


Pressing leaves is one of the fastest and most common ways to save them. There are two methods you can try.

With heat: The quickest way to preserve leaves is by using wax paper and and iron. You simply place them between two sheets of wax paper, sandwich that between two sheets of computer paper and iron both sides on medium heat until the leaves are dried out and the wax paper is melted together.

While your haul can be preserved within minutes, depending on what type of craft you’re doing, you may want to test another method as the leaves will be stuck inside the wax paper and you may have edges after cutting them out.

Without heat: Another method is to press leaves without heat. The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension suggests using slightly wilted foliage as opposed to stiff foliage.

To get started you’ll need square pieces of cardboard and square pieces of newspaper cut to the same size. You’ll then lay your leaves out on top of four or five sheets of newspaper, cover them with the same amount of additional sheets and sandwich it all between two pieces of cardboard.

Once you’re finished layering your leaves, place a weight on top and stash everything somewhere dry for two to three weeks.

To avoid potential mildew issues, take your plant press apart and replace the sheets of newspaper every two to three days.

Microwave Drying

You can also attempt to dry leaves in the microwave; however, it’s kind of a crapshoot in comparison to other methods. In my experience, there’s a fine line between dried, craft-ready leaves and scorched.

If you want to give it a go, you need three paper towel sheets and acrylic craft spray.

First, lay your leaves out on top of two paper towels and cover them with the third. Then put them in the microwave for 30 seconds. Next, you check if they are dry. If not, continue to microwave them on five-second intervals until they are completely dry, but be careful they can catch on fire.

After leaving them out overnight, spray them with the acrylic craft spray. Be sure to let them dry fully before using them to craft.

Additionally, note that in using this method your leaves may lose some of their vibrance.

Glycerin Preservation

Although pressing and drying are the quickest and most common methods for preserving leaves, dried leaves tend to be brittle and breakable. Preserving leaves with glycerin results in a more soft and pliable outcome.

Check out the West Virginia University Extension Service’s easy-to-follow guide.

What you’ll need

  • Glycerin mixture (1 part glycerin, 2 parts water)
  • 2 glass pans that stack
  • Leaves
  • Trash bag


  1. Pour glycerin mixture into the larger pan and heat to 80 to 100 F. Gently mash four to six inches of the stem ends of the leaves. Then set your pan in the trash bag and submerge your leaves in the solution.
  2. When you leaves float to the top try to make sure they are separated before placing the smaller pan inside the larger one to keep the leaves submerged. Using glass baking pans allows you to watch your progress.
  3. Pull the trash bag up over the pans and tie it off to prevent the water from evaporating.
  4. Keep the leaves submerged for two to three days before checking them. Make sure to take note of the coloration and feel. If the leaves are soft and pliable and the entire leaf has changed color, then it is done. If your leaves need more time seal them up for another two to three days. Most foliage turns a greenish brown when treated with glycerin, but the color may be altered by adding food coloring solution, according to the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.
  5. Once your leaves are ready to be removed, gently blot them with a paper towel to dry and leave them sit out to dry completely.

According to the Clemson University Cooperative Extension, it can take between two to three weeks to complete this process, but your finished product will remain soft and pliable.

You can also reuse your solution for a second batch if desired.

Foliage Map

It’s essential to harvest leaves during peak foliage, so check this map out to find out when you’re location will be prime for collection.

Potential Crafts

Check out this craft list by Country Living to come up with a festive way to use your leaves.


If you’re not quite ready to use your leaves, store them in a dark airtight container to prevent them from absorbing water, getting discolored or collecting dust before you’re ready to use them.

More Information


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