I learned this morning just how easy it is to preserve your own autumn leaves. The leaves in our yard have just been so beautiful, and I would love to incorporate some of them into my floral arrangements and center pieces at thanksgiving, but know that the leaves themselves will not last that long without some sort of preservation. There are several methods you can use, each of which will result in slightly different outcomes. I chose to use glycerin, as it produces a much more pliable end result (not dry and crunchy) and the preserved leaves themselves will last for years (rather than weeks). Now liquid glycerin is not as easy to come by these days as it once was, so it may involve some searching, and you will have much better luck scouring pharmacies (near the band-aids or hand lotion) rather than craft stores (though they often have small containers in the cake decorating section).
All you do then is cut some branches off of your trees (I chose Japanese Maple, and I especially like the variegated branches that still have some green leaves mixed in with the yellow, orange and red) and put them into a large vase of warm water, and let them drink up for a couple of hours. In the mean time bring one part liquid glycerin to two parts water to a boil on your stove top, and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Take your branches and hammer the ends to break them up, which will allow for greater absorption, and then transfer them into vases filled with the cooled glycerin/water solution. Now the only thing left to do is wait. It will take between two and five days for the leaves to drink in enough glycerin to preserve themselves. You will know when they are done when the water begins to bead on the leaves. You then need only take them out of the vases and hang them upside down for a day or two to dry. And voila! Beautiful, natural, inexpensive seasonal home decor. It's as simple as that.