By Ron Einarson
When it came to creating trees for my layout I turned to my old friend the Sedum bush. I have used it to make trees for over 30 years and I am still in awe of how great they look using little or no special techniques or skills. In the fall I harvest the branches. I cut the stems long so I can tie a bundle together and hang them from the garage rafter. They hang there over the winter and by spring they are ready to go. I cut the stems shorter and then gather four to six branches together. I usually make them from 3" to 6" in height to give me a good variety for planting. Once I have the branches, I wrap them with some floral wrap I bought at a craft store. I use masking tape when I run out of the floral tape.
I take a 2” piece of wire, coat the end of it with glue and stick it up the middle of the trunk. It will be used for mounting the finished tree. Once the trunk is to the size I like, I take out LePage's Ready to Use patching compound and apply it in layers so it dries evenly. I used to mix plaster, but it was messy and I never seemed to get the right consistency.Sometimes I didn't mix it enough and the mixture would dry flaky. Most of it would crumble off, or half of it would and I'd have to redo the process. For $5 I get the ready to go stuff and it goes on like a dream! It stays put and all dries together at the same time, creating a very nice trunk.
I also learned to have something to stick the tree in while the plaster sets. What better way to use old pieces of styrofoam than to cut it into blocks and use them to secure the tree. That’s why I put the wire in at the beginning! Clever, eh!
After the plaster sets (I usually don’t get back to them for at least a week or two, or the next year) I am ready to make some trees. I get out a small rasp file and score the trunk to give it some definition. Doing this makes a big mess of plaster dust - do this while outside if you want to live to finish your model railroad!
After my masterpiece meets my approval I paint it. I spray the foliage with a can of cheap green spray paint. Then I sprinkle on a fine ground foam / sawdust mixture, which I dye green with Rit dye. Sprinkling the trees with this mixture often takes two or three applications to get the right look.
After each step I spray the tree with “cheap” hair spray, preferably a scent free type (unless you want a nice smelling forest on your layout). When the foliage has dried, I take out the brown paint and paint the trunk. I mix up various shades of brown so I have a good variety to apply. In no time I have myself enough trees to plant a forest! But don’t forget to prepare the forest floor before planting, or you'll have a heck of time doing it after you have planted your trees!