Model Scenery Tutorials

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Making Realistic Trees

A tutorial showing how to make realistic foreground trees.

This is the google English translation of an article written in the Dutch language “Realistische_modelbomen” found at this link.


Begin Translated Article

Image: 01 Realistic trees
Image: 01Realistic trees Photo made by: Jos Geurts

The following work or building description is primarily intended for making trees that are in the foreground  that are ‘in sight’. Describing describing the creation of the ‘skeleton’ of a tree is not easy. Not putting it into practice – certainly in the beginning – either. But …, as usual in model building: after and a few times it works better and better.




What do you need?

  • Thread: lacquered florist thread (usually green) 0.39 mm diameter for the ‘fine work’ 0.6 mm diameter for the somewhat ‘coarser work’ and 1 mm as the core thread for the somewhat larger trees.
  • Sturdy iron wire one to two mm in diameter.
  • Primer (for iron) from the pot or from a spray can (you could also use ‘Rode Menie’ for this, that stuff dries up pretty quickly).
  • Glue from a spray can, for example from BISON.
  • Wood glue mixture: wood glue + drops of washing-up liquid + a little bit of water + Acrylic paint as the main color of the trunk and branches.
  • Sharp cutter for the iron wires.
  • Sharp scissors to cut the plastic fibers.
  • Bag of synthetic fibers; filter material from filters used with garden pond filters. This is for sale at all well-stocked garden centers or pond stores / shops. Price around € 3 per bag (= good for 300 trees or more).
  • Or artificial fibers used in the florist industry: ‘Decotwister’ These are slightly thicker fibers than the ‘hood filters’ and therefore for the most part (still) for our purpose! These fibers are even available in different colors. Among others black, brown, dark green, ocher and brick red / brown.
  • Spray can with dark green alkaline paint. (ensures the firmness of the ‘twigs’).
  • Grass fibers: ‘fine’ from, for example, Noch, Busch or Faller.
  • Tea strainer.
  • Sawdust: fine (sieved using tea strainer) and coarse (using baking sieve, used to sift flour or the like).
  • Large cardboard (shoe) box, the bottom and sides of which must be closed (possibly seal the box seams with adhesive tape).
  • Narrow thin brush (absolutely no expensive Martenhair brush). Simply from the Lidle or Aldi.
  • Latex wall paint: from the hardware store. For sale in endless colors.

Start with the trunk

We start by making the trunk, around which you will soon wrap the flower ties. A piece of sturdy iron wire of approximately 10 to 12 cm forms the ‘core’ of the tree. We leave the lower part of this wire free (two to three cm). This gives us a good grip during processing, and when we are finished we can ‘anchor’ the tree in the soil.

From the outset, we twist the first wire evenly and tightly around the core. The image above shows a trunk with some dead branches such as a Scots Pine.

how to wire
Attach the ‘branches’ to the trunk Drawing made by: Jos Geurts

Usually the first wire (plus maybe one extra …) will have to be twisted all the way around the core to reach a trunk height of about three to four cm (= about 5.5 meters, so a ‘avenue tree’).

wiring tree 2
Image: 03 The ‘skeleton’ of the tree Photo made by: Jos Geurts

wiring tree 3
Image: 04 Another ‘skeleton’ of a tree Photo made by: Jos Geurts


wiring tree 4
Image: 05 Create twigs on a branch Drawing made by: Jos Geurts

Below is a drawing how you can extend a branch or create more twigs. When you cut the loop (it cannot be larger than two cm) you have two twigs. If the loop is larger than four cm, you can again make two small loops, each of which turns at least four times, before cutting them. The result is then four twigs!


This way you turn all branches of the tree, all the way to the top. The branches naturally get shorter upwards. In the beginning it is a matter of trying, to see what the result will be. But after making a few trees or bushes you know about ‘how’, and you may have already found the right twist!

A rule of thumb cannot simply be given here, because nature is erratic enough; so failed trees are almost non-existent: every ‘bad’ tree can always be processed somewhere! The only thing to indicate is that the lower branches from the stem in scale N usually get 12 ‘turns’, and the higher the stem, the less the number.
If the entire tree is wrapped, you can already try to bend the branches into the correct position, so that you can get a little impression of the final shape of the tree.

cut loops
Image: 06 The skeleton of the tree Photo made by: Jos Geurts


Now the loops are cut with a sharp pair of scissors or cutting pliers. This does not necessarily have to be exactly in the middle. The ends of the cut loops are now carefully straightened and, as far as possible, bent into their final shape. This can be done with the fingers or with a pair of pliers with a ‘flat mouth’ (so-called flat nose pliers). Here it is just trying out what you like best. (Note !; it can poke properly if you straighten the case with your fingers).








Apply bark

apply bark
Image: 07 Bark applied to the trunk Photo made by: Jos Geurts

When this work is complete, the tree can be placed in the Primer. This can be done manually with a brush or with the spray airbrush. We let the tree dry for a day. Once the tree is dry, we can start applying bark imitation using the sieved sawdust and the wood glue mix (see above at: What do you need ).
First of all, cover the entire stem with a long thin brush. Brush with this mix, and immediately afterwards sprinkle the sawdust over it with a tea strainer. Coarse sawdust is mostly used for the trunk and fine twigs are used for the twigs. To give the trunk more volume / thickness, in particular, give it a second layer with ‘mix’ and sawdust.
The trunk can also be finished ‘smoothly’, as is sometimes the case with Beech.

Image: 08
Bark applied to the branches
Photo made by: Jos Geurts

Once the tree is completely treated, it can be ‘on hold’ again until it is dry. This is usually a day later. The tree then acquires a basic color with the Latex wall paint using a brush. The Latex wall paint can optionally be diluted with a little water, to which a few drops of washing-up liquid have been added, so that the paint adheres more easily to the dry sawdust. Then let the tree dry again.

Image: 09
Apply basic color
Photo made by: Jos Geurts
Image: 10
A bare tree
Photo made by: Jos Geurts

Twigs Leaves

filter material
Image: 11 Material for the foliage Photo made by: Jos Geurts

In the meantime, we are preparing the very fine twigs, in other words: we are going to cut the fibers of the filter material that we have purchased in a bag at a garden center or specialist pond store into fine pieces.
We do this by removing a bundle of filter cotton from the bag and carefully pulling the bundle slightly apart, and then from one side (strip by strip) into pieces of about half a cm to a maximum of one cm, and cut it into dropping the shoe box. Do not press on the cut fibers. Usually two large pieces are sufficient for an N-tree.

Now take the spray can in one hand and the tree in the other and spray a little over the outside of the twigs / branches of the tree. Of course not in the immediate vicinity of the box with cut fibers!
Immediately afterwards you hold the tree – with the top up – above the box with the fibers. Now carefully drop a few tufts of cut fibers on top of the tree. Tap your finger against the trunk so that any excess material falls into the cardboard box. Repeat this process because otherwise the tree will be sparsely endowed with ‘fine twigs’ (is also a matter of taste).

As with many things on the model railroad, also here: it would be better to have something too little than too much!
You will notice that tapping your finger against the trunk will not be enough to remove the loose fibers. Carefully pluck the excess material with your fingers, or with a pair of tweezers and / or a hard, narrow brush. If there are still fibers sticking to those places where they should not be, you can remove / push the glued fibers on with a brush with a little turpentine. The white spirit ‘dissolves’ the glue. After this, use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the coarse shape of the tree (eg fibers protruding too far).



The spray glue is still / remains sticky. Fiber can stick to the sharp scissors! (In that case you can dip the scissors in the turpentine.)

Detail scale H0 tree, with fibers and ‘basic color’

tree with base color
Image: 12Fibers applied Photo made by: Jos Geurts

If all of this went satisfactorily, the entire tree is sprayed with a ‘base color’ from an aerosol (Alkyde, because that gives the fibers more firmness) With ‘base color’ we mean the final / characteristic color that the trunk and twigs of the tree to be depicted (eg Scots Pine = light brick red or Birch = therefore NOT bright white, but off-white).






As an example

a Grove Pine, still without filter fibers
example tree 1
Image: 13
Scots pine
Photo made by: Jos Geurts
and a Grove Pine with filter fiber
example tree 2
Image: 14
Scots pine with finer branches
Photo made by: Jos Geurts


scotts pine with leaves
Image: 15 Scots pine with needles Photo made by: Jos Geurts

If the tree ‘in the making’ is dry, then we can start applying the leaves.
Just a word in advance:
Try to adjust the foliage that you use to the vegetation that is already present on the layout. In other words; at least try to keep the color and texture the same and do not mix too many brands. If you have nothing to do with vegetation, choose one or two species, and add variation in color by spraying the finished tree briefly with the spray can (lighter or darker color).

But first the leaves:
For scale N, ‘fine-grained’ materials appear to be preferable to ‘coarser’ ones.
An example: rather FINE peat from Woodland than COARSE peat. But we leave this to you. After all, everyone has their own taste … (Colored fine sawdust is also very possible).
Before the leaves are glued to it, especially if you use ‘Fine’ peat / sawdust, you can first and only spray the twigs lightly with the spray glue (only the outside of the crown) and lightly sprinkle the twigs (with the help of a tea strainer) !) with small grass fibers from Noch, Busch or Faller. Do not care what brand, also try again what you find beautiful / sufficient.

And now the moment has finally come for us to provide the tree with foliage.
You can do this as follows:

First only spray the twigs dark green using a spray can. This can also be done before the grass fibers are applied.

Then hold the tree at the bottom by the stem / ground pin, and again spray the outside of the crown with the spray glue. We now go straight to the box with ‘Fine turf’ from Woodland.

With a tea strainer you carefully distribute the peat over the crown of the tree. Not too much at one time. It is better to sprinkle a little peat over the tree two or even three times rather than having the tree ‘silt up’ with the mini flakes in one go.

Combinations of color / types of peat are also appropriate. Just try out what fits your layout.

You can make the trees even more realistic by using spray colors or airbrush or drybrush method for accentuating the trunk, for example. This way you can give each tree its own ‘face’.

The end result:

Here are some results of this technique:

example tree 3
Image: 16
A Grove Den,
almost indistinguishable from real
Photo made by: Jos Geurts
A Birch
example tree 4
Image: 17
A group of birches
Photo made by: Jos Geurts
Coarse Pines in scale H0, 20 – 25 cm:
example tree 3
Image: 18
A group of Grove Pines
Photo made by: Jos Geurts
Oak in scale H0, 15 cm:
example tree 4
Image: 19
A beautiful oak
Photo made by: Jos Geurts
example tree 3
Image: 20
A beautiful beech
Photo made by: Jos Geurts
example tree 4
Image: 21
A stately oak
Photo made by: Jos Geurts

Once you have mastered this technique, you will certainly have beautiful home-made trees on your model railroad, which are clearly different from industrial products. Even better and / or more beautiful than those made with SILFLOR?

Finally, a note: building trees with this technique is one of ‘going on and not giving up’. You must keep trying …

End Translation

For complete information about making trees of all kinds, go to How To Make Trees

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