The best material for modeling trees that look like trees is natural vegetation… nothing beats it. For years I’ve used various kinds of natural materials from the yard, my wife’s gardens, and fields near my house. One of the easiest pieces of vegetation to use is a bloom from the Oak Leaf Hydrangea. Note that this is not just any hydrangea – it’s the Oak Leaf variety. Here is what the bush looks like.
And here is what the natural bloom looks like, fresh from the bush. But before this can become a great scale tree for your model railroad layout, we’ve got some work to do!
Preparing the Bloom
First you have to remove the remaining leaves from the bloom. Be careful as you do this; don’t pull off the little green beads or balls. They will help add to the bulky look of the tree when it’s finished.
After that, let the bloom fully dry. You want it to dry because the stem turns a trunk color varying from brown to gray, so no painting is necessary. That’s a great time saver! It may take a week or so for the bloom to completely dry out.
Applying the Adhesive
Before adding the foliage you need to hit the “tree” with either hair spray or adhesive spray so the ground foam will stick to the branches.
Adding the Foam
Sprinkle on the green foam a little at a time, adding more adhesive as necessary. Keep adding the ground foam until the tree looks full enough to have a home on the layout. I always use a big box to catch the foam as I sprinkle it on the branches. This foam can be re-used after it falls to the bottom.
The Finished Tree
And there you have it! Easy as that. All you have to do now is puncture a hole in your scenery and insert the tree trunk. This tree probably costs about 10 cents to make, if that.
It’s a great way to produce a lot of nice trees for your layout without spending a lot on readymade trees.
I also do it with sedum, cheap hairspray and Woodland Scenics. It didn’t take long to grow enough sedum to last a lifetime and it makes you feel bad to throw the new crop out.
Have done the same with sedum
What are some good plants for use in constructing N scale trees?
Super question. I use various weeds that I couldn’t tell you the names of.
I take a grocery bag and a nippers, the walk along my local railroad track and clip whatever looks good.
I use spray clear matte varnish to seal the stems and then add foliage.
Sometimes I sprinkle on fine ground foam over the foliage and adhere it with low odor hair spray just for definition.
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I have also found that the spent flowers of Astilbe work great for conifer trees. And they are a perennial so you can harvest a new crop every summer.
I’m new to modeling and have already make a few trees and bushes but want to learn more
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The Hydrangea blooms work great. At this time of year, the Crepe Myrtle trees are bare and the stems where their blossoms grow make wonderful tree armatures.
I wish I had known this before I moved. I had a magnificent Oak Leaf and the blooms were very plentiful. Thanks to this article I have to buy another.
Try using the plant sedum. It makes great trees just by waiting until it dries on the plant . Cut off with secuters and spray green then add scatter for leaves.
The results and looks are great! My problem is, I’ve asked about the oak leaf hydrangeas, and they don’t happen to be in my area and would probably be a pain to grow!
Have made a few hundred or so trees rom the Seedum flower bloom-after 1st frost cut and inch or so above the ground-put in a card board box and let dry till spring-break off the stem -and other small pieces-spray a cheap hair spray-apply different color ground spray and then spray more hair spray to hold the ground spray on-makes for a rather great tree on your layout!
A week seems like a long time to let the leaves dry before I can use it. Is it really better than just buying trees from the local hobby store?
This hobby is getting to be expensive and we appreciate any ideas to cut the cost in all the areas.
That is a great idea. I have used natural materials since the 50s to make trees and other scenery with. I found a good source are roots. I used to find a lot of root material in sand and gravel quarries where they were washed from the product. These are small ground roots of who knows what??. They make good trees and also logs, some dead trees. Anything you can dream up. Hedges and wild grown bushes too. The possibilities are endless with roots. You can dic them up in forest areas also, soft soil, peat moss. The one i used as a teen back in fifties might be a little harder to find. Small branches from Japanese Cherry trees or also called crabapple trees. They produce cheery like apples all summer with a bitter taste I grew to like. I used these for trees and also cut to logs to make fence for horse corrals. The bark is fine and dark red brown. It never seemed to dry and stayed fresh for a few years. Looked really good and of course looked real real too. imagination works with natural woods and branches like this hydrangea and the roots and japanese cherry tree. I am sure there are even more. Would love to hear about them.
Very good tip. Need trees so will follow your instructions
I saw someone disolve woodchips from a BBQ pit to make sawdust to make scenery, I go to lowes or home depot either will give you all the sawdust you want for free, I use the sawdust and cheap paint, all colors to make all type ground cover, plants trees, bushes, flowers and so on
I wait for fall when the leaves fall. Let them dry out on the ground then collect them. They have to be dry or mold will form on them. Grind them up in a cheap blender, strain fine ones from courser ones. Mix with water diluted white glue and a little Lysol and spread them for ground cover. If mix is thin enough it can be put on with a stiff brush, other wise will need to be put on with puddy knife. Can also put the glue on the surface and sprinkle the ground up leaves over the glue, leaves a softer surface that way. like doing conventional ground cover.
I used Sedum branches a couple of years ago and used white glue. It worked well. Some have dried out now after a couple of years so will try scenic express trees and their leaf products next.with glue mix.
I had used dried sedum ( the large autumn joy type) flower heads to make layout trees. A large plant offers a verity of different size flower heads from large to small, stems are also a verity of length from tall to short, since the flower dry to a brown color I would spray paint the flower green and leave the stem its natural color but it can be painted a darker color if one wishes. One can also spray the flower using yellow and orange for a fall look or keep it brown to add some dead trees to the landscape.
I also use Hydrangeas, but not just Oakleaf, The ANGELICA has a more rounded shape good for oaks and maples as well as others, Also they come in different sizes on the same bush and no two are the same.
Dale They look great I’m going to try them , I use grape stems to make trees they work good too
Another great plant bloom is astilbe. The dried blooms are a very nice ash shape.
This hobby cost enough and it is sure nice to see articles and videos that make inexpensive items great for the layout !
The idea is a great help. Can any body give an idea any substitute base branches available in India? This oak hydrangea is not very common in India.
Any cone-shaped hydrangea will work.
Hi I am a newbi, just starting a small layout 3ft 9″ x 6 ft.
You mentioned ground foam is this something you grind yourself or is a bought item ?. I have an otyher question, can I slope up the track ,lets say approx 3 ” I want to build a bridge over a water section . some one said NO any thoughts.
Hi. I think it’s a lot easier to buy ground foam than to try to make it. You can use many natural materials and sift them down as well.
In the space mentioned a 3″ rise is probably way too steep unless your loco is only pulling 1 or two cars. Better to keep your track flat and sink the water below the level of the track. You can do this by putting a layer of 1″ insulation foam on top of your sub road bed. The track is then glued to the foam and you can cut the foam with a box cutter, or other sharp knife, where you want the river or water
One of the best tools for cutting foam, rigid, closed or open cell, is an electric knife. I picked one up from Good Will years ago just for this purpose and it does an amazingly superb job. It cuts quickly and either straight of curved cuts are possible.
For the size of your layout 3” can be quite steep. Grades are usually expressed in% of grade. For long trains 2% is considered steep, but for short trains of 3-4 cars, 4% is considered reasonable. Your 3” dose in 100” of distance would be 1%. Therefore your 3” rise in 100 inches would be 3%. If you can climb the 3” in approximately 5 ft of distance it will be close to 4%. Of course you will probably have part of the climb on a curve it will mean you will have an effective grade of more than 4%.
You can slope your track up and then down at about a 2% grade. That would be about 1/4 inch rise or fall per foot of run. You can purchase styrofoam risers or make them your self.
Thanks for all the tips!!!I will use lots of them
Excellent. First stop, the nursery to by a hydrangea.
Great looking tree. Would it help to soak the branch in a white glue/water mix and clip a small weight on the tip, hang it upside down and let it straighten the trunk out a bit? That’s what is recommended for Scenic Express Super Trees. Just thought it might work on this too.
Also, I have recently been making poplar trees out of caspia branches. I buy a bundle and after using the pieces with the flower buds on them, the left over twigs that have no buds can be clipped off, glued to a ‘trunk’, in my case, stained and weathered chopsticks or bbq skewers (the non bamboo kind), and then using a leaf material from the likes of Noch or Scenic Express, glued on in the same manner you used with these trees, gives you a nice looking poplar tree. Just an idea I happened on.
Hi, Dale. I think that you’re quite right!