Pressing and Framing Fall Leaves

Written by Joely Rogers

Fall is in the air, and with it comes one of nature’s greatest art shows: the changing colors of the leaves. People from all over the country plan trips to visit some of the most beautiful areas for fall foliage, armed with cameras and an appreciation for the outdoors.
While you can certainly frame your favorite shots of the leaves and trees, you can also take a piece of this natural artwork home —the leaves themselves — to preserve and frame instead.

How to Preserve Leaves

First, select the leaves you want to frame. Simply look around the forest floor to find some specimens; if all the leaves on the ground are damaged or rotting, pick a few from the trees. Leaves should be in perfect condition, with no insect bites, tears or curling. While collecting, make sure you have something to store them in, such as a sturdy plastic container, or they may get damaged. Once home, gently clean the leaves by brushing off any dirt and removing any lingering moisture from the forest floor.

Press and Dry Leaves

The most common way to preserve leaves at home is simply by pressing them under a heavy object, but it’s important to use the right materials. Lay the leaves flat on absorbent paper or newspaper, and place another sheet on top of it. Lay a flat, heavy item on top, such as a stack of books, and simply wait for them to dry, about a week or longer.

You can also get a little more professional and create a plant press. Top pieces of corrugated cardboard with newspapers and blotting paper to create a sort of sandwich — this way, you can stack leaves on top of one another, in between the cardboard and newspapers. At the top of the press, use bricks or heavy books to add the necessary weight.

Give Leaves a Glycerin Bath

Instead of drying out the leaves, you can preserve them with glycerin, which keeps them pliable instead of brittle, which occurs when pressing and drying them. Note that the glycerin will affect the colors of the leaves, with yellows doing the best; red and orange may take on a brownish hue.

Mix two parts hot water and one part glycerin, which you can find at pharmacies, health stores and online, in a wide pan deep enough to submerge the leaves. Lay the leaves in the pan and pour the solution over them. Remove after about three to four days, or when the leaves feel supple.

You can also use this method to preserve whole branches with leaves attached. Crush the ends of the branches with a hammer and stand them upright in a bucket with the solution. This method takes a little longer, about two to six weeks.

How to Frame Pressed Leaves

Framed Leaves

To frame leaves in a traditional way, you need all the supplies in a standard framing package: the frame, mat board, backing board and glazing. Simply attach the leaf or leaves to the backing board with acid-free adhesive, lay the mat board on top, and frame like any other print. Wood picture frames are a great choice to frame fall foliage, as their natural material complement the leaves. Complement your art with autumn frame colors like browns and golds or showcase your fall foliage with a more neutral frame color such as our Profile 205 in Silver Leaf.

Framing leaves offers more opportunity to get creative: instead of framing a single leaf, ditch the mat board and make a collage of leaves. Create a beautiful ombré effect, in which colors gradually blend from one to another, by arranging green, yellow, orange and red leaves, or your favorite combination.

Pressed Flowers in Glass

If you’re not worried about preserving the leaves indefinitely and just want a temporary décor piece, a popular method of framing leaves is to sandwich it between two pieces of glass or acrylic. This is generally not recommended by framers, since putting artwork in direct contact with any surface besides the backing board can damage the artwork. An alternative is to mount the leaves onto the rear glazing and use spacers to separate the top glazing, but moisture can get trapped inside.

However, if you’re looking for seasonal design piece, it’s fairly simple to do. You’ll just need a frame, two acrylic or glass sheets and frame spacers. Securing the leaves to the rear glazing may not be entirely necessary, but a small strip of acid-free tape can help keep everything in place.

There are endless ways to display and frame fall leaves that lets you enjoy their beauty all year round instead of waiting for those few, fleeting weeks each year.

Last Updated October 15, 2020

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