You can already see shades of red and yellow bursting forth from the maples, sumac, ginkgo, and other plants. Would not it be nice to have some of this color to brighten up the dreary days of winter? Well, there are several methods by which you can do this.
One of the oldest methods to reserve colorful leaves is to press the leaves between sheets of waxed paper. To do this place autumn?colored leaves between two layers of wax paper. Cover with an old towel or cloth rag. Press the fabric with a warm iron, sealing the wax paper together with the leaf in between. Cut your leaves out, leaving a narrow margin of wax paper around the leaf edge. This is a time-tested way to do it.
For the more modern, you can preserve fall leaves in your microwave oven. Choose fresh leaves with the brightest colors. You do not want to use fallen leaves that have already started to dry. Take individual leaves and place them in the microwave on top of two pieces of paper towels. Cover them with two additional sheets of paper towels.
You will need to experiment with the amount of time you need to run the oven. It will vary from 30 seconds to 1? minutes depending on the wattage of your microwave and amount of leaves. The drier the leaves, the less time they will need. You might want to place a small bowl of water in with the leaves so they do not over-dry. Leaves that curl after removal, have not been dried enough. Leaves that scorch, have been left in too long. Let the dried leaves acclimate for a day or two and then finish the leaves with an acrylic craft spray sealant.
Another microwave option that produces really good results is if you include silica gel for drying. Place a one inch layer of floral silica gel in the bottom of a cardboard box. Place the leaves lying flat. Leaves should not touch and should be at least 1.25 inches away from the sides of the box. Cover the leaves with a one-inch layer of gel. Place the uncovered box in the microwave. You want the microwave to operate at about 200 to 300 watts so if your microwave has 2?10 settings operate it at level 4. If the oven only has three to four settings, it should be set at half. If your oven has a high to defrost options, set the microwave on defrost. Estimated drying time is 2.5 minutes if you're using a half pound of gel and about 5 minutes if using two pounds of gel.
Yet another way to preserve the leaves is to submerge them in a solution of glycerin and water. Use a mixture of one part glycerin to two parts water. Place the mixture in a flat pan, and totally submerge the leaves (in a single layer) in the liquid. You'll have to weight them down to keep them submerged. In about two to six days they should have absorbed the liquid and be soft and pliable. Remove them from the pan and wipe off all the liquid with a soft cloth. Done correctly, the leaves will remain soft and pliable indefinitely.
• Wayne C. Porter is Regional Extension Specialist-Horticulture, Mississippi State University Extension Service. You may contact him by calling (601) 482-9764.