How to Preserve Autumn Leaves With Silica
I know this is not the time of the year to share a hub on preserving Autumn leaves! We are still having frosty days here, but I am watching the little buds with hope that Spring will be here anytime soon. I am sure this hub will at least help you to plan ahead and be ready for the fall season, and go into your creative world of decorating your houses during and after the fall season.
Also this method can be used to preserve any leaf and even flowers. So why wait for the fall season? You can go ahead and preserve some spring and summer flowers and leaves too!
Fall or Autumn is a very beautiful season, and we see colours everywhere. The leaves on the trees, the leaves strewn on the ground and even the Autumn sky is colourful. Autumn leaves come in different shades and shapes depending on the tree and they can be used for a variety of craft ideas for kids and adults.
In order for your decoration to last for a long time, it is best to preserve the leaves and give them some finishing touches before the actual decorating process. This will help your art to stand out, all fresh and beautiful!
Preserving flowers using Silica Gel
There are so many ways of preserving autumn leaves. Just the autumn leaves or a branch of leaves can be preserved, depending on each individual’s interest and need. In this hub, I will be discussing in detail, how autumn leaves can be preserved using Silica Gel, but before that I would like to mention here, that it is not the only one method available. I have briefly mentioned the other methods that you can use to preserve them too.
The video to the right demonstrates how to preserve roses using Silica Gel and the same applies for autumn leaves too.
There is also a hub that has detailed information on the other methods of preserving autumn leaves. Please follow the link below for that.
As kids, most of us would have had the hobby of pressing beautiful flowers and leaves in our text books or old books and newspapers. I have done quite a lot starting from primary school right up to high school. I have even ruined a few notebooks, not knowing the correct procedures that had to be followed, for example, flowers and leaves being too moist and getting rotten or developing mold. Otherwise it was a very interesting hobby, as it even helped me learn a lot about the different species of plants and flowers around me, and also helped me observe their behaviour very closely. Good old days, miss them!
Now let me stop my story here and get back to the point. The different methods used to preserve the fall leaves or the fall colours (doesn’t that sound pretty?) are:
Glycerine – Leaves are submerged in a solution of glycerine and water for a few days and dried with paper towels. The leaves feel soft and fresh and have their natural texture as the natural moisture present in the leaves is replaced by glycerine.
Wax paper pressing or ironing – Leaves are pressed between two sheets of wax paper using a warm iron, where the iron is run over either the wax paper or a cotton cloth. The leaves are either sealed between the wax papers or you can remove the wax paper, leaving a coating of wax on the leaves.
Wax coating – Melt beeswax or paraffin wax in a double boiler or pan and dip the leaves in the wax and remove, giving them a thin coating of wax. Let the wax dry before you place the leaf on any surface.
Microwave – Put fresh leaves on paper towels on the microwave plate and cover them with another paper towel (sandwich between paper towels). Microwave for sometime between ½ a minute to one minute. Check in between so that the leaves don’t catch fire. If required, microwave for a few more seconds. Spray them with acrylic sealant after two days.
Laminating – This works best for dry leaves as moist ones can get spoiled or ruined during the process. Laminate them as you would laminate other papers. Take care, as some laminators can be very sensitive.
With weight – This is a very simple method, but the leaves do not stay long like the preserved ones. Leaves are sandwiched between wax papers or news papers and left in a book which is then pressed down with more books on top for weight. Check frequently to see that the leaves do not rot.
Silica Gel – This method is used to dry Autumn leaves with the help of silica gel and with or without the microwave oven and spray them with acrylic spray to finish off and for them to stay longer. This is the method I will be explaining in detail here in this hub.
Please read the detailed hub below for the above different methods for preserving autumn leaves.
Now let us get into the details of preserving the Autumn or Fall leaves with Silica Gel. Before starting the preservation process, you need to know what is Silica Gel, why it is used to preserve Autumn leaves, how to select the best leaves for preservation and also the tools and materials required for the process. After the preservation process, one needs to know how to save or store them for future use.
What is Silica Gel?
Silica Gel is a form of Silicon-di-Oxide, that is vitreous (resembling glass) and porous (full of pores and able to absorb fluids). It is manufactured from Sodium Silicate.
Silica gel is white in colour. Most silica gel have blue coloured crystals added to it as indicators and this is the indication of how much moisture it has absorbed. As the silica gel absorbs moisture, it turns into pink colour. At this stage it has to be dried in an oven at 250 degree centigrade for at least an hour or if indicators are present, till the indicators turn blue again, for it to be reused again as a desiccant (A substance that promotes drying).
Why is Silica gel used for drying Autumn leaves?
It has high affinity for water molecules and hence is used as a desiccant (A substance that promotes drying). Considering the microscopic structure of Silica gel, it removes moisture by adsorption rather than absorption.
Selecting the best leaves:
Cut branches from trees when the leaves are on full colour and use pruning clippers to cut the branches, this is if you wish to preserve stems. To preserve leaves, try your best to select leaves that are flat and in good health with no spots or fungus or infection or dirt or other irregularities on its surface. Magnolia and Rhododendron leaves work best for preserving in Silica Gel. Select leaves that are a bit moist and supple. Do not pick up leaves from the ground as they have already started drying, and hence get fresh leaves off the trees for best results.
Make sure that the leaves do not have excess moisture or water on them. Shorten the stem of the leaves if they are too long.
Tools and materials needed:
- Microwave safe container
- Cardboard box, preferably flat (if using the manual drying method)
- Flat work surface
- Silica gel (can be found in craft stores or hardware stores)
- A glass of water
- Microwave oven
- Spray glaze or dry flower coating (can be found in the craft stores)
- Optional paint brush (if you are applying the coating manually, also can be used to brush off Silica Gel if any sticking onto the dried leaves)
I have added a video below that demonstrates how to dry flowers using Silica Gel. The same process applies for Autumn leaves too.
Drying flowers using Silica Gel
Preserving leaves using Silica gel is the best method if you wish to use them in any arrangements.
There are two way of preserving leaves using Silica Gel.
- Manual drying using Silica Gel
- Microwaving the leaves in Silica Gel
Manual drying using Silica Gel:
- For this method, one needs a flat box; a cardboard box is the best. You can use a shoebox too for this procedure.
- Place the cardboard box on a flat surface.
- Pour in Silica Gel, about one inch thick to cover the base of the box.
- Place the leaves on the surface of the silica gel in the box, leaving little space in between them.
- Pour another layer of Silica Gel on top of the leaves; again about one inch thicker, taking care not to fold the leaves, but keeping them flat.
- Leave this setup airtight in a warm and dry place for several days. If exposed to air, the silica gel will take in moisture present in the air.
- After two days, check to see if the leaves are dry, if not, leave again for another few days till the leaves are perfectly dry. The number of days it takes to dry depends on the thickness of the leaf and care should be taken not to over dry them.
Microwave drying the leaves using Silica Gel:
- For this method, you will need a microwave safe dish or container.
- Place the container on a flat surface.
- Pour in Silica Gel, about one inch in thickness, so that it covers the base of the container perfectly.
- Arrange the leaves on top of the Silica Gel, taking care to leave space in between the leaves and also from the sides of the container.
- Now pour in more Silica Gel on top of the leaves, and make sure you cover the leaves completely with a one inch layer of Silica Gel.
- Place a glass of water in the microwave (to avoid overdrying) and along with this add the uncovered container or dish in which you have arranged the Silica Gel and leaves.
- Microwave this setup on medium power (200 to 300 watts or level 4, depending on your microwave) for a minute to see if the leaves are dry. If they are not dry, then microwave for another one minute or more, but checking in between to see if the leaves have dried. It should not take more than three minutes.
- When the leaves are perfectly dry, remove the container or dish from the microwave and pour the Silica Gel into a different container.
- Care should be taken not to break the leaves in this process as the leaves are dry and brittle and can get broken easily if not handled with care.
- If there is any Silica Gel sticking on to the leaves, brush them off with a soft brush, as the leaves are delicate.
In both the above process, to increase the life of the preserved leaves, spray them with spray glaze on both sides or slowly and carefully paint on them some dry flower coating using a very soft brush that you get at the florists or craft stores.
Advantages of this method:
In this method, the natural colour and shape of the leaves are preserved, and coating with clear glaze spray helps the leaf from breaking and fading in the future.
Uses of preserved fall leaves:
The preserved leaves can be used in a variety of crafts. You can use them in flower arrangements, mount them and frame them, use them as decorations on the table, especially during the Halloween and thanksgiving season, you can make wall and window hangings, use them in wreaths and flower arrangements, make centrepieces, use the branches in flower vases and many more!
Hazards of Silica Gel:
- Silica gel although non-toxic, precautions should be taken while handling silica gel as the dust from them can cause irritation to skin and eyes.
- If this dust enters the respiratory tract, it can cause irritation to the respiratory tract.
- Crystalline silica dust if inhaled can also cause silicosis (A lung disease caused by inhaling particles of silica or quartz or slate).
The silica gel that sometimes comes in the market can contain a coating of cobalt chloride which is considered toxic. So care has to be taken and kept out of the reach of children and pets.
Storing the leaves:
The leaves that have gone through the preservation methods above do not stay forever, but they stay for quite some time depending on how you look after them. The leaves have to be stored in airtight containers to prevent them from being eaten by insects. Naphthalene pieces can be added to repel insects. Check the container occasionally for any insects or other infections.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this hub as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you for passing by. Please do not hesitate to drop your comments, experiences, ideas or feedback. If you feel that there is something that can be added to the hub, please leave a comment below or contact me.