Pressing Fall Leaves - How to Preserve the Beauty of Fall Foliage

Young girl playing in fall foliage
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  • 01 of 10

    Selecting Leaves to Press or Preserve

    Choosing Which Fall Leaves to Preserve
    Choosing Which Fall Leaves to Preserve. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Fall foliage is a highlight of the season. Colorful leaves may be even more attractive than flowers. However, ​to make an indoor display of fall foliage, it helps if you dry or preserve the leaves first. Luckily this is easy to do and there are 4 basic methods for pressing and saving colorful fall leaves that follow.

    Whichever method you choose to use, your leaves will turn out their best if you use these guidelines when selecting them.

    1. Choose leaves that are relatively flat, not curled.
    2. Look for...MORE leaves that aren’t spotted or bumpy.
    3. Don’t be afraid to try leaves in various stages of changing colors.
    4. Drier leaves press well. More supple leaves, like magnolia and rhododendron, are good candidates for glycerin or silica gel.

    Choosing which leaves to preserve is a great activity for the kids, too. And being closer to ground level, they often have a better view.

    Some Great Leaf Choices for Intense Color

    aspen, blackgum, ginkgo, maples (sugar maple, red maple...), sourwood, sassafrass, and sweetgum.

    Continue to 2 of 10 below.
  • 02 of 10

    Pressing Leaves with Weight - The Simplest Method to Preserve Fall Leaves

    Pressing Fall Leaves
    Pressing Fall Leaves. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Pressing leaves with a weight is the simplest method of saving fall leaves, but the leaves won’t last as long as preserved leaves will. Here's how to press leaves to use for the fall season.

    1. Choose leaves that are relatively flat and thin, with a low moisture content.
    2. Sandwich leaves between newspaper or waxed paper.

    Then select some of your heaviest books and continue on with the next step.

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  • 03 of 10

    Pressing Leaves with Weight - Weighing them Down

    Using Heavy Books as a Press
    Using Heavy Books as a Press. Photo: © Marie Iannotti (

    To keep the leaves from curling, you'll need a good amount of weight.

    1. Place the paper with the leaves inside a heavy book. You can also place more books, a weight or rock on top of the book for more weight.
    2. Keep the book in a dry location and check after about 1 week. Make sure the leaves are drying and not rotting. You will probably need to leave the leaves inside the book for another 1-2 weeks before they are completely dry and ready to use.

    Tip: If you’d like a more supple leaf, soak the leaves...MORE in diluted fabric softener before pressing. Or try coating the surface with a light layer of petroleum jelly.

    Decorating Ideas:

    • Strew the pressed leaves on display shelves and mantles.
    • Make a centerpiece by filling a basket with your pressed leaves.
    • Pressed leaves can also be used as a table dressing. Arrange the leaves on a table or table cloth and cover with a sheer cloth or a glass or plastic covering.
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  • 04 of 10

    Preserving Leaves with Waxed Paper - Great for Kids

    Pressing Leaves Between Waxed Paper
    Pressing Leaves Between Waxed Paper. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    This is how most kids start preserving leaves. It could be the only time anyone enjoys ironing.

    1. Choose thin leaves with a low moisture content, that haven’t begun to curl.
    2. Sandwich your leaves between 2 sheets of waxed paper.
    3. Cover your ironing board with an old cloth rag, so you don’t get wax on the board.
    4. Place the sandwiched leaves on top of the rag.
    5. Place another old cloth rag on top of the sandwiched leaves.
    6. Heat the iron to high, but NO STEAM.
    7. Slowly run the iron back and forth over the cloth...MORE rag. Don't press too hard to begin with, or the leaves will shift. Once the paper has begun to seal, use the full weight of the iron and hold it for about 4-5 seconds on each spot.
    8. Lift the rag to see if the waxed paper has melted and sealed. The leaves will be much clearer when the wax has melted.
    9. Allow the paper to cool, then cut out individual leaves. Leave a small margin around the leaves so the waxed paper stays sealed.

    These leaves will last for months.

    Decorating Ideas

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Drying Leaves in the Microwave

    Drying & Preserving Leaves in the Microwave
    Drying & Preserving Leaves in the Microwave. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Microwave ovens are a great, quick way to preserve almost everything. You can use the microwave alone, or speed up the process with silica gel as mentioned on the next page.

    1. Choose leaves that are still fresh and supple. Avoid dry fallen leaves.
    2. Sandwich individual leaves or small, flat sprays of leaves between 2 paper towels.
    3. Place the sandwich on a microwavable dish and place in the oven.
    4. Microwave for 30 seconds and check the leaves. The thicker and/or moister the leave, the longer it will take.
    5. If...MORE the leave(s) is not yet dry, keep running the microwave at 30-second intervals and checking until the leaf feels dry.

    CAUTION: The leaves could catch fire, just like anything else left in the microwave too long. So keep checking. Don’t wait until the leaves are crisp or scorched. They will keep heating and drying for a few seconds outside the microwave and you don’t want to overdo it.

    Check your flower borders for colorful leaves. It's not just trees that put on a show in the fall. Plants like amsonia, hardy geraniums, hosta, and peonies turn shades of red and gold.  Coralbells always look colorful. And don't forget about ornamental grasses and ferns.

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  • 06 of 10

    Preserving Fall Leaves with Silica Gel

    Preserving Leaves with Silica Gel
    Preserving Leaves with Silica Gel. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Silica gel is that white powder that looks like salt, that comes in tiny containers in everything from sneakers to vitamins. Silica gel is great at absorbing moisture and it speeds up the drying process considerably. You can find boxes of silica gel in any craft store or you can save and combine all those tiny containers of silica gel that come your way.

    1. Select leaves that are still somewhat moist and supple. Silica gel will allow you to dry slightly thicker leaves, too.
    2. Place about a 1-inch layer...MORE of silica gel in the bottom of a microwaveable dish.
    3. Place the leaves flat on top of the silica gel, leaving space between the leaves and the sides of the dish.
    4. Completely cover the leaves with another inch of silica gel.
    5. Place the uncovered dish in the microwave oven and microwave at medium for about 2 minutes. It’s hard to give exact times for this, because it depends on the size of the dish, how many leaves you have in the dish, how much silica gel is used and the power of your microwave. As with straight microwaving above, it is safer to check the status of the leaves in short intervals than to wait until the leaves scorch. In general, 3-4 leaves in an 8x8 inch pan with 3-4 cups silica gel takes about 2 minutes on medium.
    6. Let cool and remove the leaves.

    Tip: The leaves will last longer if you seal them with an acrylic spray.

    Decorating Ideas:

    These leaves are similar to pressed leaves, above, and can be strewn or massed for seasonal decorations.

    Continue to 7 of 10 below.
  • 07 of 10

    Preserving Fall Leaves with Glycerin

    Preserving Fall Leaves with Glycerin
    Preserving Fall Leaves with Glycerin. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Preserving leaves with glycerin is the best way to keep them supple and flexible and they may remain so for years. You can do individual leaves or even whole, small branches.

    The hardest part of doing this is finding the glycerin. Glycerin has really become difficult to find. I used to see it in large bottles in drugstores near the hand lotion. Now you'll have to do some searching. Some drug stores still carry it. Ask at the pharmacy, if you don't see it.

    You can also usually find it at health...MORE food stores and in craft stores. I recently found a small jar at a craft store, but it was in the cake decorating section. Seems glycerin also improves cake icing colors!

    To Preserve Individual Leaves

    1. In a shallow pan, mix a solution of 1 part glycerin to 2 parts water.
    2. Place your leaves into the solution.
    3. Weigh the leaves down with another pan or dish, so that they are totally submerged, as demonstrated on the next page.
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  • 08 of 10

    How to Preserve Fall Leaves with Glycerin

    Keeping the Leaves Submerged
    Keeping the Leaves Submerged. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Placing a slightly smaller dish on top of the leaves keeps them well submerged. It also means you can use less solution.

    Start checking in 2-3 days. The leaves should be soft and pliable. If they still feel like dry leaves, leave them in the solution for ​another 2-3 days.

    When they are supple, remove them from the solution and blot them dry.

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  • 09 of 10

    Preserving Branches of Fall Leaves with Glycerin

    Preserving Whole Branches of Fall Leaves
    Preserving Whole Branches of Fall Leaves. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    To Preserve Small Branches with Glycerin

    1. Cut small branches with leaves attached and immediately immerse the stems in a bucket of warm water. Let stand for about 2 hours, away from full sunlight.
    2. Combine 1 part glycerin to 2 parts water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
    3. Allow solution to cool completely.
    4. Remove the stems from the bucket of warm water and smash the stem ends lightly with a hammer, so there is more surface area for soaking up the...MORE solution.
    5. Place the branches into the glycerin solution. Store out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat until small beads of dew form on the leaves. This means the leaves have absorbed all they can.
    6. Remove the branches and wipe off the leaves.
    7. Hang branches upside down to dry.

    Decorating Ideas

    Glycerin leaves can be used for all types of crafts. They’re especially nice for wreaths and garlands and for table accents like napkin rings and chargers.

    Continue to 10 of 10 below.
  • 10 of 10

    Saving Pressed and Preserved Leaves

    Fall Leaves Pressed Between Wax Paper
    Fall Leaves Pressed Between Wax Paper. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    No method of pressing or preserving leaves is going to allow you to keep them forever. Even the leaves pressed between waxed paper will eventually dry and crumble. If you'd like to prolong your fall leaf masterpieces a bit longer, take a stroll down the floral preservative aisle at your local craft store. There are products for sealing, dipping, and polishing. Using one of these gives a little extra longevity to the preserving process.

    Of course, there will always be more leaves next year and...MORE every year your skill and creatively will only get better.

    Here's where to find the best viewing of fall foliage, state by state.