I go full Blue Peter for this tip.
It won’t be for everyone but if you’re looking for an almost free, very quick and easy technique to make trees for your model railway it’s hard to beat.
And in true Blue Peter style, I’ve got pictures of one I “prepared earlier’ that show how good the trees made with this tip can look.
So without wasting time that you could be spending on your layout let’s get going.
Look at the trees around you, particularly deciduous varieties in full growth.
What’s noticeable, or what I noticed and forms the cornerstone of this tip, is that on trees in full leaf bloom, the branches aren’t visible. They’re hidden under all those glorious green leaves.
The branches aren’t visible.
Think about that.
Making Model Foliage
As the branches aren’t visible, all that’s needed to create trees then is a trunk and something that looks like the foliage growth.
The trunk is easy and I’ll come to it in a jiffy.
For the foliage, we need a material that can be shaped into the crown of the tree and holds shape without branches.
For this, I’ve used my old friend the kitchen or bathroom sponge.
Take a dark green one and cut it into the shape of a tree. (One of the best things about this tip is that you can make pretty much any type of deciduous tree just by carving the sponge to the shape required). Just take a look around you at natural trees if you need inspiration.
It’ll probably take a few tries to get it right but it’s surprising how good it looks with relatively little effort.
I just pinch bits off, using tweezers to grasp small pieces.
How to make the trunk
I’ve written before about using twigs for tree stumps but it’s this tip where old sticks really come into their own.
Look around your garden or neighbourhood for them. (I’ve had some odd looks when caught kneeling in the gutter of a local alleyway picking up twigs — the things I do for this hobby!).
For N-scale, twigs of about 2 inches in length are best, three to four inches for OO and HO and six inches upwards for O-scale.
Look for twigs with a slight taper and ideally with collars for branch buds or shoots that have broken off. The branch will be cut immediately below the collar and this end glued into the base of the layout so the collar creates the impression of the top of the root ball at the base of the trunk just as it is for real trees, particularly Sycamore, Birch, Hornbeam, Oak and Poplar varieties.
This technique is very good for trees with a central main trunk showing, if you’re making trees with low branches that would be visible look (oak, acacia for example) look for sticks with offshoots.
For good measure leave them on a sheet of paper outside somewhere so any insects in them crawl out and then microwave them to dry them out.
Once dry, sharpen one end of the twig and skewer the sponge on it.
For extra touches, I dab darker shades of acrylic green paint on the recessed parts of the sponge. If I want visible leaves on the trees — at the front of a layout where detail will be visible for example — I spray the sponge with hair spray and gently sprinkle small amounts of very fine green scatter over them.
That’s it — the majority of the “growing” is complete.
To plant your tree, drill a small hole to the diameter of the trunk in your baseboard, dribble a small amount of PVA wood glue into it and push the trunk into it. You may need to support it until the glue sets.
It really is this easy!
As promised, here’s a photo of some I made earlier.
Compared to the faffing around making trunks and branches from wire and then sticking on layer upon layer of scatter as suggested in other guides, including several on this very blog it’s much quicker and easier.
As for cost, it’s an old sponge and a twig! Compare that to £4 or £5 per tree in model shops!
Now, where’s my Blue Peter badge…
No one will miss a bit of bathroom sponge so why not have a go at making your own glorious tree now?
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Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.