Press play: How to preserve leaves and plants
As the year draws to a close, you might think outdoor activities are off the table, but don’t be too hasty! Leaf pressing is a brilliant activity for autumn and early winter. Get out and capture the quiet beauty of the trees and plants in nature.
Ready, set, press!
Fallen leaves can be just as spectacular as the brightest summer flowers: earthy browns, deep reds and vibrant yellow and orange.
If your leaves and plants are carefully chosen, looked after and preserved, they can last a long time. They are beautiful additions to scrapbooks, photo albums, or decorations.
We’re going on a leaf hunt…
Kids love choosing and pressing forest souvenirs. It’s so easy to collect and press leaves. The techniques are simple and easy to follow. It's a great way to make memories from a special day.
What to look for
Scotland has so many species of tree. You don’t need to know everything about every kind of tree to collect beautiful leaves and plants — just follow your eyes! Pick bright colours and interesting shapes. Taking a book with you to identify leaves is a fun way to learn about the natural world together.
- Try not to take leaves directly from the tree — nature can handle that part! Take a good look at any leaves that the insects have been munching, or leaves that have lain for a long time - these can end up as beautiful leaf skeletons. You can use leaves of any age or maturity. In general, the drier and older the leaves, the more the colours will have faded.
- Flatter leaves are easier to press. Try and avoid leaves that have curled.
- Some leaves have spots or bumps, making them harder to press. Drier leaves press well, so try and avoid going leaf hunting just after its been raining, and dry your leaves out before you press them.
- Keep them out of direct sunlight to avoid fading, and away from moisture to prevent mold.
Use books or weights as a press
Pressing leaves with a weight is the simplest method. There’s nothing complicated involved - you just need acid-free paper, a heavy book, and some more to place on top. Choose a heavy book for your press, preferably an old one that you don't mind getting stained or crumpled, as moisture from the leaves could damage the pages. The book should be larger than your leaves, and thick - although any book will work with enough weight on top to press the pages down.
- Take a piece of paper, and fold it in half.
- Arrange your leaves on one side of the paper, then close the fold, sandwiching your leaves between the halves.
- Place the folded card in the pages of your pressing book, and add books on top to weigh it down.
- Try not to let leaves overlap - when they dry, you want to see all of the intricate veins and patterns. Keep stems out of the way, as they can stain.
- If you’re pressing more than one specimen in the book, leave about a quarter of an inch (0.6 cm) of pages between layers - and be careful not to add more than the book can fit.
- Keep your pile of books somewhere dry, where they won’t be disturbed.
Time to create
Your dried and pressed leaves should be ready in anything from a few days to a couple of weeks. Check them every once in a while - if the paper is cool to the touch, put it back to dry.
We’ve made some suggestions below for what to do with your pressed leaves, but the only real limit to what you can do with them is your own imagination! Here are some of our favourites:
- Make awesome autumn collages.
- Create posters or wall hangings for your bedroom.
- Decorate windows and doors.
- Personalise your Christmas gift wrapping.
- Pressed leaves look beautiful spread out across a bookshelf.
- Make a table decoration by filling a basket with your pressed leaves.
- Arrange the leaves on a table or tablecloth, and cover with a clear cloth, or a glass or plastic covering.
We want to see your creations! Take a picture of your leaf art project and post it on Twitter using the hashtag #FoundMyForest, and we will share it with our followers.
Leaf colour chemistry explained
WikiHow have suggestions for a few more complicated, but equally easy to learn methods for preserving your autumn leaves.
The Royal Horticultural Society guide to pressing flowers, leaves and other specimens.