These days you can certainly buy all the forest you can carry home for your model railroad layout. You’ll probably end up enhancing those pieces and wishing you’d either done it all from scratch in the first place or at least had given it some more thought. Point is, while you can get some good basic trees from the ready-made material, the ability to make these even more realistic and to make trees from scratch is an art you’ll want to get good at!
One of the first things to think about when planning your trees and forests, is to not only pinpoint the area you’ll be modeling, and the trees common to that area, but the time of year, weather depicted. You must also include any other stressors on the trees, such as a logging operation, highways, developments and the like. Each of these and other factors like them will tend to make a difference on not only how your forests grow, but how many trees, and the condition they’re in as well. Each forest has several different types of trees, and while one type might be predominant, be aware that the different types exist alongside another, each with their own condition and growth rates.
You can make trees with any number of materials, such as balsa wood, wire, twine and more. There are many techniques to make all different sorts of trees. The trick is knowing exactly what you would like to depict, and to determine the best way to make that particular tree. Pine trees for example can be made with a length of wire, manila twine, rubber cement and model foliage. While this can produce some stunningly realistic trees, it can also take some time. Allow for that, though, as it is definitely worth it when you see the results. Setting up an assembly line process for your forest may be a good idea, as it will allow you to compartmentalize some of the work, and maybe save some time. This is especially helpful if you’re modeling a few types of trees in your forest. Before long you’ll have a stand of trees that will be ready for planting!
When considering how and where to plant your newly ‘grown’ trees, there are several things to keep in mind. First, when looking at your photos or real-life scene you are modeling, pay particular attention to the vegetation and ground cover you find on the forest floor. Underneath a forest canopy will be very different from the edges of the tree cover, so take notice. There are many commercially available ground coverings, as well as natural products (like dirt!) you can use as well. Experiment with the look you get, don’t be afraid to weather and paint your ground, and remember that most forests have not only some dead trees, but some fallen or broken trees, and if depicting a logging operation, plenty of stumps.
I find it advisable to work one section of your layout at a time, allowing for the scenery to evolve and grow. This can only work, however, if you stick to your original plan. Making trees from scratch is a real art, and one of the most rewarding scenery projects you can undertake, as you’ll certainly understand when you look upon your newly-finished forest!