October is my favorite month of the year. The sun’s light is dropping to the south and casting longer shadows and a softer light on the landscapes around us. That and the cooler temperatures are turning the tree leaves brilliant shades of orange, red, gold and yellow. The winds we had late last week didn’t take down all of the leaves but they will shortly and the show will be over for this year.
If you act fast, though, you can preserve some of the color to enjoy when the snow is deep and cold and spring is still two months away. Preserving leaves is easy and a fun activity for kids.
Start by taking a walk around the neighborhood or on a nearby trail. Look for perfectly shaped leaves with different shades of color and shapes. Thin, flat leaves are easier to dry than curled or thick leaves.
The easiest method for preserving leaves is to press them. Immediately after getting home arrange the leaves in a single layer between sheets of newspaper or paper towels. Place several heavy books, bricks or boards weighted with rocks on top of the paper, and leave them for several weeks to dry. Once they are dry, remove them carefully and store them in a flat box out of the sun.
Leaves can be placed between single layers of wax paper and ironed. Place the leaves and wax paper between two old towels and press them with an iron set to high. Press down hard on the leaves so that the wax melts. Allow the leaves to cool and cut around the leaves with scissors. Leaves preserved this way are durable enough for kids to play with and use in decorating projects.
Another simple way to preserve leaves is to dry them in the microwave. Place the leaves between paper towels and turn the oven on for 30-second cycles until the leaves are dry. The microwave is a good way to preserve thicker leaves or those that are difficult to flatten without damaging them.
Try drying leaves in silica granules. Place an inch of granules in a flat glass dish. Arrange the leaves on the bed of silica so they aren’t touching and add another inch of silica on top of the leaves. Place the dish in the microwave for about two minutes. Test the dryness and microwave for 30 seconds increments until they are dry. Be careful the leaves don’t get too dry and scorch. Silica granules can be found at any good craft store or online.
If you want very pliable leaves try preserving them in a mixture of glycerin and water. Mix one part glycerin and two parts water and place it in a flat glass dish. Arrange the leaves in the liquid and place a slightly smaller flat dish on top of the mixture to keep the leaves completely submerged. Check them in two to three days. If they still feel dry, leave them for a few more days.
Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 35 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.