If you love autumn colors, learn how to preserve fall leaves to keep them around longer! (First published October 25, 2015; this post is updated and republished to improve the content.)
Learn how to collect, press, and preserve fall leaves with the step-by-step leaf-preserving instructions below. Preserved autumn leaves make a great natural supply for arts and crafts. Once preserved, fall leaves can be used to make gorgeous nature art and leaf crafts. Most fresh 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 for an easy leaf-preserving method, and find links to learn how to preserve autumn leaves using a few other simple techniques! You may also like this list of Fall Nature Crafts.
How to Preserve Leaves
As autumn’s vibrant foliage blankets the world in a rich tapestry of reds, yellows, and oranges, many of us are captivated by the fleeting beauty of changing leaves. But what if you could capture and preserve a piece of this natural spectacle to enjoy year-round at home or in the classroom?
The art of preserving leaves has been a cherished tradition for nature enthusiasts, crafters, and botanists alike. It’s a fascinating journey into the delicate balance between science and art, where we unlock the secrets of nature’s intricate designs and discover easy ways to immortalize their beauty. You might also enjoy this list of fall art projects and painting ideas.
In this exploration of leaf preservation, we’ll delve into various methods and creative applications that allow us to extend the life of these delicate botanical marvels, keeping the spirit of fall alive in our homes and hearts. So, whether you’re a seasoned leaf presser or a newcomer to this captivating nature craft, join us in uncovering the wonders of preserving leaves, a pursuit that transcends seasons and offers a window into the world of nature’s exquisite masterpieces.
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. We both enjoy creating new nature crafts and art projects with the gorgeous array of fall leaves 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. This makes it best to approach each leaf preservation technique like a scientist and choose one or two you like best! You might also enjoy 10 Ways to Play and Learn with Fall Leaves.
Craft Supplies Needed to Preserve Autumn Leaves
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 post for more information about how to preserve leaves using the other methods mentioned above.
- Fall Leaves or fresh green leaves
- Medium leaf press, large plant press, a microwave plant press, OR cardstock, and a stack of heavy books.
- Mod Podge or white glue mixed with water
- Foam brush
- Newspaper, an old sheet, or wax paper
- An old magazine or catalog
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 the instructions before getting started so you know the steps involved and what to expect.
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
2. Clean and Dry Leaves
- After you collect a few gorgeous autumn leaves, it’s time to clean and press them.
- It is important that the autumn leaves (or green leaves) are clean and dry before pressing them, or they can grow mold and peel.
- So, rinse the leaves with water and give them time to dry before pressing and preserving them.
3. Press Leaves
- After cleaning and drying the leaves, use a leaf press to press and flatten them. (The craft supplies above suggest a few more leaf presses you can use.)
- Or press and flatten the leaves with sheets of cardstock and heavy books.
- Place the autumn leaves into a leaf press, or place a few fall leaves onto a piece of cardstock and follow the directions below.
How to Press Leaves with Cardstock and Books:
- Place several clean, dry leaves on top of a sheet of cardstock paper.
- Put another sheet of cardstock on top of the leaves.
- Ensure the fall leaves lay flat under the cardstock.
- If you have more leaves to preserve, place them on top of the second sheet of cardstock.
- Next, put another sheet of cardstock on top of those leaves to press them.
- Repeat these steps until all the leaves you want to press are inside the stack between each sheet of paper.
- Place large, heavy books, binders, or other heavy objects on top of the stack of leaves between sheets of cardstock.
- Press fall leaves for 12 – 24 hours.
- Don’t press autumn leaves too long; they can lose their colors or grow mold.
4. Preserve Leaves
- After you have pressed the autumn leaves you collected, it’s time to preserve them.
- The DIY leaf preservation technique below describes how to paint Mod Podge (or a slightly watered-down white PVA glue.) onto autumn leaves to preserve them.
- Applying Mod Podge to a fall leaf is almost impossible without getting it all over the surrounding area. So, we have developed a super-easy leaf-preserving hack described below to help you get it done without making a huge mess!
- Other methods to preserve leaves are listed at the bottom of this article.
How to Preserve Leaves with Mod Podge or White Glue:
- Cover a table or surface large enough to dry the fall leaves you collected with a newspaper, an old sheet, or waxed paper.
- Gather pressed fall leaves, Mod Podge, a foam brush, and an old magazine or catalog. (Or use PVA or white glue mixed with water so it’s easy to paint 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.
- Repeat the steps above.
- After using the first page of your catalog to paint a few leaves with Mod Podge, it 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, you will slowly glue the catalog pages together as you work. This is why using a magazine or catalog you don’t care about is important.
- Repeat the steps above until all the leaves you want to preserve have been painted with Mod Podge or watered-down white PVA glue.
- Give the preserved fall leaves time to dry.
- Once the autumn leaves are dry, apply Mod Podge to the other side of each leaf if desired. This final step is optional; see 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 in the photographs were preserved by painting on one side of the leaf with Mod Podge, as shown in the photograph of the ‘thankful’ leaf below. It retained a good bit of 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.
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 five 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!
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 at The Magic Onions, or preserve fall leaves with glycerin or wax paper with Chelsey on Buggy and Buddy.
Maggy Woodley over at Red Ted Art has a basic write-up on the six methods commonly used to preserve leaves, complete with a video of how to use glycerine to preserve autumn leaves.
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 two 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 Might 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