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Using Tree and Plant Roots in Model Train Scenery

| June 1, 2018 More

Using real roots in your train sceneryTo add a nice extra bit of realism, I’ve always liked to look of exposed tree roots on a model train layout. Roots creeping out from cuts in the earth or even from rock faces add a nice touch to any scene. You’ll need to do a little judicious root hunting to get the right root look, here’s how I do it.

This time of year we have a sea of maple tree seedlings and saplings all over the yard, looking like a 1”-3” rain forest canopy. These usually get cut down by the lawn mower over the course of a year or two. A good use of these little plants is to pull them up and put their root systems to work on your layout.

It’s best to pull these seedlings up when the ground is a little damp so the roots don’t tear and break off. With the maple root system we have in our yard, there’s the main root and lots of finer bits growing off this root. Depending on the scale you’re modeling, the main root can be too large, but I’ll tend to use some of these larger roots anyway just because they add so much visually.

Once you’ve collected your roots, a good rinse in hot water to remove loose soil is a good idea. I let my roots sit in a bath of hot water and glycerin for an hour or so. This removes the loose soil and the glycerin helps to preserve the roots. After this bath allow the roots to dry completely.

Once your roots are dry, it’s really just a matter of matching the root shape to your scene, like a root jigsaw puzzle! For larger root pieces I’ll tack them into place with a dab of gel superglue and then go over this with a matte finish glue like Mod Podge.

To hide the base of the root, a dab of Mod Podge with some soil sprinkled on top works well. On this little scene I built for a previous article, I have lots of roots clinging to the side of the rock face. To further sell this particular root look, a large tree planted right at the edge of the rock face would work well.

In these photos I’ve used all maple tree roots, but you can use a wide variety of roots that you can find in your own area. Pull up some plants and see what you get! An added use for some of these roots, the larger ones, is that they can be cut down to represent log piles. Never let any good scenery possibility go to waste.

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