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How to pick sprays of autumn leaves for decoration

birch leaves in the studio

It is the time of year when something magical happens to deciduous trees.  

The trees prepare for dormancy over the winter and stop producing chlorophyll.

The green that colours the leaves all summer retreats, and as it fades away the bright layer underneath - the reds, yellows, oranges - is revealed. 

At the same time as the tree stops producing chlorophyl, it also stops making the hormone auxin.  

It is auxin that controls the base of a leaf, turning it to face the sun to collect the most energy possible, but without enough of it the leaf will break off at a deliberate weak point at the base of the petiole, called the abscission point, and it will tumble to the ground.  

This is good for the tree, fewer leaves means that there is less likely to be storm damage, the leaves gradually decompose, many are pulled into the earth by invertebrates, making the soil more fertile. It is all part of a virtuous cycle.

The magic is that - if you time it right, and cut a spray of leaves when it has lost its chlorophyll and changed colour, but before the lack of auxin sends the leaves tumbling, that spray will retain both colour and leaves for many years.

Cut the leaves and put them in a vase or jug - without water - they will crunch up a little and any green leaves may wilt, but they will keep colour and shape.  

If you want to put them into a flower arrangement once they are completely dry then they will be fine in water, but while drying water makes them wilt as they will try and take it up the stems.

The sprays of leaves, once dry are very sturdy, and can be used to make festive wreaths and decorations.  

I have some cut from the beech hedge which are several years old and stand like a copper leafy candelabra on the top of  my bedroom drawers.

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