If you love autumn colors, learn how to preserve fall leaves to keep them around a bit longer!
Learn how to collect, press, and preserve fall leaves. Preserved autumn leaves make a great natural supply for arts and crafts. Once preserved, fall leaves can be used to make nature art and leaf crafts of all kinds! Most green leaves can be preserved using the same leaf preserving techniques.
There are several ways to preserve leaves; scroll down for step-by-step instructions on an easy leaf preserving method, and find links to learn how to preserve autumn leaves in a few other ways! You may also like this list of Fall Nature Crafts.
Collect, Press, and Preserve Leaves for Nature Crafts and Art Projects
Do you like to hunt for and collect colorful, beautiful leaves in the fall? Searching for gorgeous autumn leaves is one of my daughter’s favorite fall activities. And we both love to create nature crafts, and art projects with the gorgeous array of fall leaves that we find.
The problem is that they will turn brown, shrivel up and break into pieces if you cannot use them immediately. Today we will share what to do with fall leaves after you collect them so you can use them for nature crafts and art projects later. Once finished, you can use your preserved leaves for leaf lacing, leaf crafts, leaf art projects, and much more!
It’s important to remember that preserving leaves is an inexact science with varied results. It is impossible to preserve leaves to look as bright and remain supple as the day you found them. And this makes it best to approach each leaf preservation technique like a scientist and choose one or two that you like best!
Related: 10 Ways to Play and Learn with Fall Leaves
Related: Fall Bucket List of Fun Fall Activities
Craft Supplies Needed to Preserve Autumn Leaves
There are several ways to preserve leaves. The method described here uses a leaf press and Mod Podge or a slightly watered-down PVC or white glue.
To preserve autumn-colored or green leaves, You can also use beeswax, glycerin, waxed paper, or a laminator to preserve autumn and green leaves. Scroll down to look at the resources at the bottom of this page for more information about how to preserve leaves with the other methods listed.
- Fall Leaves
- Medium leaf press, large plant press, a microwave plant press, OR cardstock, and a stack of heavy books.
- Mod Podge
- Foam brush
Related: Nature Crafts and Nature Art Activities
How to Preserve Fall Leaves: Step by Step Instructions
These simple step-by-step instructions teach how to preserve leaves to make fall arts and crafts with beautiful autumn colors. Please read through the instructions before getting started.
Related: Fall Nature Table Ideas for Natural Learning
Step 1 – Collect Fall Leaves
To preserve leaves, you first need to get outside to collect them. One of our favorite fall activities is going on a nature hunt to look for vibrant fresh fallen leaves to bring home to create nature crafts or press and preserve for later. My daughter gets excited every time she races for a pretty leaf!
Related: Marbled Clay Autumn Leaves Craft
Step 2 – Press Leaves
After you have collected a few gorgeous autumn leaves, it’s time to press them. If the leaves you collect are dirty, rinse and dry them before you press and preserve them. It is important that the autumn leaves (or green leaves) are clean and dry before you press them, or they can grow mold and peel.
Once your leaves are clean and dry, grab your leaf press (from the suggestions in the craft supplies above). Or use a pile of cardstock and a stack of heavy books. Next, either place the autumn leaves into the leaf press or place them on top of a sheet of cardstock and follow the directions below.
How to Press Leaves with Cardstock and Books
- Clean and dry leaves, so they do not mold while being pressed.
- Place leaves on top of a sheet of cardstock.
- Add as many leaves as you can fit between two sheets of cardstock.
- Place another sheet of cardstock on top of the leaves.
- Do your best to ensure the fall leaves lay flat under the cardstock.
- If you have lots of leaves to preserve, place more leaves on top of the second sheet of cardstock and then place another sheet of cardstock on top to press them.
- Repete as needed. Keep doing this until all of the leaves are between sheets of paper.
- Place some large, heavy books, binders, or other heavy object on top of your stacks of cardstock and leaves.
- Press fall leaves for 12 – 24 hours.
- Don’t press autumn leaves for too long, or they can lose some of their colors or grow mold.
Related: How to Make and Keep a Nature Journal or Notebook
Step 3 – Preserve Leaves
After you have pressed the autumn leaves you collected, it’s time to preserve them. The method described below uses Mod Podge or a slightly watered-down PVC or white glue. Other methods to preserve leaves are listed toward the bottom of this article.
It is almost impossible to apply Mod Podge to a fall leaf without getting it all over the surrounding area, so we have developed a super-easy leaf preserving hack to help you get it done without making a huge mess!
Related: Outdoor Learning Ideas and Nature Activities for Kids
How to Preserve Leaves with Mod Podge
- Cover a table or another surface large enough to dry the fall leaves you have collected with a newspaper or an old sheet.
- Gather pressed fall leaves, Mod Podge, a foam brush, and an old magazine or catalog. If you don’t have Mod Podge, use PVC or white glue with a little water added. The idea is to make it easy to paint with–but not too runny.
- Grab an old magazine or catalog to give yourself a surface to apply the Mod Podge quickly without concern. Open it to the first page and use your foam brush to apply Mod Podge to one side of a fall leaf.
- Lay the autumn leaf down on the covered surface with the Mod Podge side facing up.
- After using the first few pages of your catalog to paint a few leaves with Mod Podge, they will be nice and sticky, am I right? Turn the page to have a new clean surface to work on–tada! No muss-no fuss! Yes, this means that you will slowly be gluing your catalog pages together as you work; this is why using a magazine you don’t care about is important.
- Repeat as needed and allow time for the preserved fall leaves to dry.
- Once the autumn leaves are dry, apply Mod Podge to the other side of each leaf. This final step is optional; look at our tips below for more information.
Please scroll down for more of our best leaf preservation tips, and see how our preserved fall leaves look after a year!
How to Use and Care for Preserved Leaves
Preserved leaves can curl and wrinkle, depending on the leaf type. If you want your preserved autumn leaves to stay flat, press them again when the Mod Podge, PVC, or white glue is dry until you are ready to use them.
The preserved fall leaves we preserved by painting on one side of the leaf with Mod Podge, such as the ‘thankful’ leaf pictured below, retained a good bit of their color and became more flexible and better for art projects than those painted on both sides. Conversely, we discovered that fall leaves painted and preserved with Mod Podge on both sides are better for sturdy crafts like leaf lacing.
Related: Fall Books for Kids: Autumn Stories Children LOVE!
Some of our preserved autumn leaves have become brittle over time, and a few have faded a bit, but we still have lots of red, yellow, and orange preserved leaves to play with!
Update after one year: Our leaves from last year are still gorgeous. They have lost some of their flexibility, and some have become quite brittle now that they have been stored for a year, but they are still surprisingly colorful.
Update after 5 years: We have a box filled with some of the leaves we preserved five years ago, which–believe it or not–are still ready to use for arts and crafts. We’ve used them, over and over again, to decorate our Thankful Tree, and they work just as well. They are a little more fragile than when they were first preserved, and the colors have faded a bit more, especially the reds and yellows, but they are still gorgeous!
Related: Healthy Pumpkin Cranberry Bread Recipe
Other Methods to Preserve Autumn Leaves
As mentioned above, there are a few other ways to preserve leaves that you can try. Learn how to preserve leaves with beeswax with Donni over at The Magic Onions, or learn how to preserve fall leaves with glycerin or wax paper with Chelsey over at Buggy and Buddy.
Maggy Woodley over at Red Ted Art also has a basic write-up on the 6 methods commonly used to preserve leaves, complete with a video of how to use glycerine to preserve autumn leaves.
Related: 20 Thanksgiving Traditions and Fun Things to do on Thanksgiving
Preserve Leaves and use them for Nature Crafts and Art Projects
Pressing and preserving fall leaves is an easy crafting activity for kids and adults. Once finished, you can use preserved leaves to make lacing crafts, nature crafts, and nature art projects of all kinds!
You might also enjoy our fall bucket list of fun activities and crafts!
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
Fun Ways to Use Preserved Fall Leaves: Nature Crafts and Art Ideas
- Fall Leaf Crown Craft
- Fall Leaf Lacing
- How to Make a Thankful Tree for Thanksgiving with Real Fall Leaves
- Watercolor and Fall Leaves Art
- Turkey Leaf Lanterns
- Thanksgiving Turkey Leaf Nature Crafts
- Best Fall Nature Crafts – Includes leaf art ideas and nature crafts made with real fall leaves.
- Autumn Leaf Fish in the Sea Art
- Fall Leaf Baby – The picture below was taken when the fall leaves used to make it were 2 years old. As you can see, they lose a bit of color over time but are still lovely!
If you liked How to Preserve Autumn Leaves, You May Also Like
- Forest School: Outdoor Learning and Nature Activities for Kids
- The Best Fall Art Projects for Kids
- Best Thankful Trees for Thanksgiving
- Real Flower Nature Crafts
- Nature Crafts and Art Ideas
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