How to Make Miniature Trees from Goldenrods

Nature provides many great examples of miniaturized vegetation that we can use on our layouts. There are many natural materials from your own yard or fields you can use to make nice, inexpensive, and realistic looking trees.

Goldenrods might be considered a strange material as they can cause some people with allergies to suffer, but if you are not affected by pollen, Goldenrods can make good-looking trees for your model railroad layout.

Ready for Picking

This is what the weed looks like in its natural habitat as it is blooming. Goldenrod, which is considered a weed in the US, is planted in other parts of the world as a blooming flower.

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You’ll often find Goldenrod growing along the side of the road. It’s yours for the time it takes to harvest it.

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The goldenrod is ready for picking and turning into model trees after it turns a grayish white.

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Preparing the Goldenrod for Its New Life as a Tree

Here is the beginning of a new tree. You’ll notice the really realistic branch structure! Those leaves on the stem need to be picked off before it becomes a tree for the railroad.

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Below are three branches that I’ve spray painted green with a rattle can. I always wear gloves for this part of the job and cover up the stems as much as I can so they remain a nice brown-gray color.

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The tree on the left will make a wonderful tree all by itself. The two on the right can be combined into a heftier looking tree.

Get Out the Glue Gun and Tape

For this next part I just wrap the trunks with masking tape, or you could use floral tape instead. I then smear hot glue from a glue gun all over the new “trunk”. Some people use putty for this step and it works great also.

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Here the tree has been sprayed green again. Sometimes I even add ground foam to the branches before the paint dries. This will help a rather sparse tree look better.

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Final Coloring of the Trunk

After the glue dries, I spray the trunk a grey color and then smear washes of acrylic black and raw sienna all over the trunk to give it some depth, as you can see in these pictures.

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The Completed Trees Can Enhance Your Scenes

Now the trees are put on the layout. As you can see from this photo, I like to have trees in a variety of colors and textures. There are other ways to make trees, but scratch-built trees are a great and fun way to do it. The main thing to avoid is having trees that all look the same. Variety is the spice of life and the key to realistic scenery.

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Do you have any other ideas for using natural materials in your layouts? Let us know in the comments.

Related blog: Making Scale Trees from Hydrangea Blooms

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26 Responses to “How to Make Miniature Trees from Goldenrods”

  1. Ron Kelley

    These are great looking with what looks like a minimum of work. Thanks for your article.

  2. Richard Herron

    Ground pine which grows to a max of about 8 -9 inches here in the upper midwest should work well too.

  3. erik gins

    this my friends ,it really helpfull to make scenery on your train-layout ; Fabulous ,magnificent Allen . I very often follow your videos , its my passion to build it in future with lots of usa old steamers . I have already a collection of 325 steam-engines . greetings & keep goiing on my friends ! erik

  4. Dan Robinson

    I have done this, a few years I got the idea while out hunting, and thought if I give them a paint job they do look good.

  5. Jim K.

    Cultivated Yarrow for small multi limbs.
    A touch of foam with various shades of painted greens,browns or bare for winter.

  6. John

    Natural sources for trees: model fir/cedar= astabe (garden), pine=spirea (road side ditches), deciduous= pepper grass (sandy beaches), deciduous=sedum (garden). Harvest in late aug/sept when drying out, hang inside to straighten until natural color gone, spray with rattle can ( various shades of green ), sprinkle with fine colored material (colored ground sponge, sawdust) to thicken – if desired. Hand brush trunks.


    I used Golden Rod back in the 50’s when I had a big Lionel setup…works great

  8. PAUL

    Nice, a great fan of using naturals, has certainly stimulated some new ideas.

  9. Stephen H. Burns

    Grape stems make a pretty convincing “long dead” tree. I tried to make “live” trees by spraying adhesive on the stems and sprinkling coarse green sawdust on them. They looked OK at first (think early spring leafing out), but our cat has knocked off most of the leaves after several years of prowling the layout, which is in the loft of our barn. She gets to spend more time up there than I do.

  10. Eric Tonks

    Personally I find Goldenrod and other dried weeds a bit on the fragile side, one touch with a sleeve or something similar will snap off branches if not the whole trunk. I prefer roadside bushes, driving around country roads, particularly in winter when it is easy to see the stems without the leaves, one can find a number of bushes with fine twigs that resemble miniature trees. Being made of wood they are more durable than dried weeds, but care is needed as they can be broken with rough treatment. They will require adding some foliage to complete the appearance.

  11. Walt Huston

    I give a clinic titled “From Garden To Layout…Don’t Throw That Out” every now and then. I start out with real dirt, add small rocks and pebbles. I use the trimmings from my wife’s garden for tree armatures and use “Fine Leaf Foliage” from Woodland Scenics for the foliage. The result is trees that a scale bird could fly into and through. I have some photos I can send if you have someplace to receive them.

  12. W Rusty Lane

    I haven’t used golenrod as of yet but I have used the nandina bush as tree armatures. After the red berries fall off I cut them from the bush, cut the little round thingy’s off each “limb” and use ground foam that I’ve precolored using acrylics in a coffee grinder. Works quite well for home made trees.

  13. Larry Bouget

    I’m new at this experience and I’m seeking advice. Not sure where to start with all this. Went to a store to purchase train and tracks but was not sure where to start. I’m 59 years old, just a big kid at heart. We’re waiting on our 16th grandchild and want to amaze our new grandbaby when she arrives. Could someone please give me guidance about where to start. What do I need to purchase first. I’m wanting to start with a 4’X8′ sheet of plywood for a winter/ Christmas scene. I want to have mountain tunnels and bridges. Being a river boat captain I also want to incorporate a navigable waterway with a boat pushing barges(stationary). I will construct those parts myself. Should I use 3/4″ plywood for strength and sturdiness? Please send ideas. Thanks, Capt. Larry Bouget

    • W Rusty Lane

      You could start off with 5/8ths inch plywood. That’s what I started with on my first layout. I acquired several Atlas turnouts as well as some Atlas and Micro Engineering code 100 flex track and drew out how I wanted the layout to look. You need to plan it out before you actually start laying the track. Since my layout is strictly DC (as I don’t care for DCC with the fake sounds) I wired it up using several different “blocks” which I used insulated rail joiners to make the blocks. There are quite a few videos on how to plan and lay track on YouTube. You might want to start by viewing several videos. Hope this helps ya somewhat.

    • Matt K

      Captain Larry, I am 67 and I know growing old is inevitable, but growing up is optional. Check out your local public library to see if you can check out model railroading books (Dewey # 629 IIRC). If you haven’t selected a scale, HO (1:87 scale) is most popular and works on a 4×8 sheet. More expensive options are modern 3-rail Lionel/MTH/Atlas (1:48) or S-scale (American Flyer 1:64). For that first layout, make it simple and bulletproof by buying “integrated” track with attached roadbed. HO offers Kato Unitrack, Bachmann and Atlas brands. 3-rail has Lionel Fastrack, MTH Realtrax and Atlas. Kalmbach publishes several books oriented to rookie engineers so get a hold of one and read it. From my own collection there is Small Railroads You Can Build (8th printing by Bob Hayden), How to Build Small Model Railroads (winter 2014 Special Issue) and How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork (1979 by Linn Westcott). For 3-rail, there is the Lionel Train Book (1986 by Robert Schleicher), Model Railroading With MTH Electric Trains (2002 by Bob Adelman), Easy Lionel Layouts You Can Build (1998 by Peter Riddle) and Small & Midsize Track Plans for O Gauge Trains (2011 by Kent Johnson). I have interests in both 3-rail and N-Scale (1:160). And be sure to pop for the Premium Membership.

    • PAUL

      I’m pretty much a beginner myself been at it for about 5 years, I believe the best baseboard to be a hollow core door topped with +- 1″ structural foam urethane or the like.
      Being Australian, am not too sure what your equivalents to be.
      Cheers Paul

    • Burk

      Cpt. Congratulations on the Grandchild. We just welcomed our 16th Great Grandchild late last year. Go to the Kalmbach Publishing Co. website. They have all sorts of great books about getting started in Model Railroading. Then find a friendly, local retailer that will work with you. You might also check and see if there is a Model Railroad Club near you. All will be great help for years. I’ve been doing it for 68 years and never get tired of it. Burk

  14. L Paul

    Have a care as wild parsnip looks very similar to goldenrod, but is very irritating to the skin. It is very prevalent along the roads in southern VT, probably elsewhere.

    • Allan R. Fehrholz

      Autumn Joy Sedums. Pick them after they die for the season. Spray the blossom side with glue and color. The stems look like the trunk and limbs. Bunch them together on your layout and it looks like part of a forest or thicket. With a little work you can make a stand alone tree for a front yard.