Preserved Leaf Autumn Wreath
Learn how to preserve leaves to create a beautiful fall wreath that will last for months.
Source: Martha Stewart Living, October 1995
By preserving autumn leaves with glycerin, an organic emollient, you can create a wreath that will last for months without drying out. This method will also work with green spring and summer leaves. The process requires some experimentation; some leaves don't take well to the glycerin. But the ones that do will be beautiful and last long enough to make the effort worthwhile. For best results, always cut branches in the cool of the evening, and never use leaves that have been through a frost.
Select a dozen or so small but leaf-heavy branches from trees at their peak of color. For best results, cut branches at night. It's important to use ones that have not weathered a frost this season, as the process will not work on leaves that have seen a frost. Keep in mind that glycerin will change the leaves' colors. Yellows respond best, becoming more intense; reds and oranges turn a ruddy brown; and green magnolia leaves take on a chestnut color but retain their glossy veneer.
Cut branches from trees with pruning clippers or a handsaw. Pound the end of each branch with a hammer to expose its vascular system.
Fill a deep bucket with a half-gallon of water. Test the water with a pH testing kit to make sure it has a pH between 3 and 4. (If pH is too high, add citric acid—lemon juice. If too low, add powdered lime.) Add 17 ounces (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) of glycerin and four to five drops of surfactant to the water. The surfactant breaks down the glycerin molecules into smaller ones, enabling the branches to absorb glycerin more easily.
Stand the branches in the bucket; place them out of sunlight while the branches and leaves draw up glycerin. After three to five days, leaves will feel supple. Magnolia branches may take three to six weeks to absorb the glycerin.
Pick leaves from the branches and, with florist's wire, bind them into small bunches. Position a bunch on a wreath form and bind with wire to hold in place. Wire on a second bunch so that leaves overlap the wired stems. Continue until the circle is complete.