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12 Tips For Great Looking Trees On Your Model Railway Layout

Very Realistic Trees On A 009 Gauge Model Railway Layout

Any model railway or model railroad for our American friends isn’t complete without trees. Trees feature in pretty much every landscape apart from the most baron of deserts, so it’s essential that you included them on your list of things to add when building a layout. But adding trees to a layout and making them look as realistic as possible isn’t simply a case of buying the cheapest “Bottle Brush” pine trees in bulk and slapping them into place. It’s worth taking your time and looking to see how good old mother nature does it.

Todays post is a list of 12 essential tips or pointers that I use every time I add trees to a layout, and I thought I’d share them with you:

  1. Space is good… Don’t be afraid to remove a tree from your layout if you think it just doesn’t look right. An odd one to start with maybe, but a very important one. Over-planting is easy to do. Look at where and how trees grow in real life and mimic what you see.
  2. Try your trees in various positions, looking to see how they compliment their surroundings. Stand back from your layout and check the appearance, angle and position before you plant them permanently.
  3. Use the best quality trees close to the front of your layout where spectators and admirers will stand. You can get away with cheaper, less detailed trees towards the back of the layout.
  4. Trees are great for hiding joins in baseboards and backscenes.ย  A line of trees can very subtly disguise changes between horizontal and vertical parts of the layout.
  5. If your adding a wooded area of forest to your layout, you don’t have to use full trees in the centre of the forest. Use trees with only foliage towards the top of the trunk in the middle, with full trees around the edges.
  6. Decide on the season you’re wanting to model before you buy your trees. A wood with fully leaved oak trees will look odd covered in snow! Autumnal and Spring coloured trees just don’t work together either!
  7. If you’re adding a small clump of trees, always work with odd numbers. 3, 5, 7 or 9 trees will always look much more convincing than a block of 2, 4, 6, or 8. No idea why, it just does ๐Ÿ™‚
  8. If you need to create an area with lots of trees on it and your budget is tight. Use on of the bulk bags from Gaugemaster or Noch to quickly and cheaply create the bulk of the wooded area, then surround that with more expensive, realistic looking trees around the edges.
  9. Always look at real trees when adding woods and forests to your layout. Pay close attention to the bark and leaves as nothing in nature is ever the same size, shape or texture. Colours vary widely too. Look at the thickness and shape of the trunks too. Trees growing on banks and the sides of railway cuttings often have curved trunks at the bottom.
  10. Don’t ignore trees from the mainstream Model Railway manufacturers such as Hornby and Bachmann. Their scenic items have improved no end in recent years, and are now way way better than the old Lollipop trees they used to produce.
  11. Use different coloured foliage, scatter, static grass and fallen branches to make your trees look like they’ve grown up out of the ground, rather than just being stuck in position. A little careful scattering around the base of the tree is all it takes to produce some very realistic results.
  12. If you’re making your own trees, mound the trunks on a scrap of wood then spray them with an aerosol primer. Then apply a mix of top coat colours with an airbrush or spray cans to achieve the colour you want. Then apply your foliage, followed by a light coat of brown in the places that matter to blend things in a little.

Those 12 tips aren’t the be-all and end-all of adding trees to your layout, but I they certainly help me a lot when adding trees to any layout or diorama. At the end of the day, we’re modelling real-life, so take you lead from it. Study what mother nature does, then have fun recreating it in miniature.

If you have any questions or you have any further tips you’d like to share with your fellow readers, please feel free to post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time… Happy modelling!

Other useful resources:

  • Here’s a link to a fantastic tutorial on creating great looking trees for your model railway.

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2 Responses to 12 Tips For Great Looking Trees On Your Model Railway Layout

  1. Gary says:

    Hi Justin,

    Great post. I am building a small layout for my son, supposed to be simple, but I have taken over. Now up to the landscape detailing, ie, trees, shrubs, hedges & undergrowth. The photo at the top of the post is awesome and gives me a lot of scope to work with, as with the post itself. Living in Sydney, Australia makes it difficult to know what the landscape is like in the UK, and how to detail the cuttings/embankments.
    Cheers and keep up the good work.

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