Three Easy Steps to a Gorgeous, Realistic Tree

By Jenn Danza

Making realistic trees in a reasonable amount of time is the perfect model horse project for slow times during the year. Beautiful props can also set you apart from the rest of the pack during the show season. This project will show you how to build a tree and consists of three parts: the trunk, the branches, and the umbrella.

The Trunk:

Next time you have an opportunity to weed out your garden (or watch someone else weed out theirs) take a good look at some of the root systems pulled out. Weeds have the most incredible structures and their roots make the perfect "base" for a model tree prop. In this project I used the vine and root of a dried up tomato plant to make my tree trunk.




A tomato vine root. Perfect for the trunk. Little branches from a larger live tree. Perfect for the branches. Dried out Morning Glory vines. Perfect for the umbrella.


Once you find your tree trunk, cut off any excess root and vine. Attach your "trunk" to a cardboard base or Styrofoam form using hot glue. Don't worry if this stage gets messy. The key is to firmly adhere the trunk to the cardboard or Styrofoam.



Cut excess. The trunk after being trimmed of
unwanted roots and vine material.
A cardboard form to hold
the tree.



Glue root to cardboard form.


The Branches:


Add branches to vine tips. Entire tree trunk with
branches added.

Look around again in your garden. You may notice that the tips of trees and certain bushes are fairly compact and look like very small trees themselves. Such branches are perfect for the limb tips of the tree prop. Cut a few off and then stick or hot glue these branches onto the trunk. If you are using dried up tomato vines you can actually stick the cut branches straight into the vines without the use of glue.


The Umbrella:


Add organic filler to the
top of the tree.
Spray adhesive to the filler.

Filler such as mesh, netting or sculpture wire can all be used to help form the foundation the umbrella of leaves will sit upon on your model tree. I prefer to use organic filler like old dried ivy or Morning Glory vines because they take to the gluing process much better than anything sold commercially and they are free!

Pile the organic filler on the branches until the form starts to resemble the shape of a tree. Be sure to squint your eyes a bit and stand back from the structure to get a good view of what you are doing. After you are satisfied with the form, it is time to add the fake leaves. 

Ever tear open a padded envelope? It has some light and fluffy stuffing that sticks to glue instantly! It's the perfect, inexpensive material for making fake leaf clumps. Tear open an envelope and scrape the padding away from the paper. Spray your tree with spray adhesive and let the padding gently touch the glue. Keep adding padding and spraying adhesive till the form is covered and the entire structure looks like a tree. Then, take a bit of grass flock and sprinkle it over the padding until the padding is green in color.



Open up padded envelope to reveal good leaf material. Add envelope padding to the entire structure. Add green flocking on top of the padding.


Cover base with paper mache.

After the entire tree is complete, finish off the base by adding paper mache to hide the Styrofoam form. Paint with acrylics, green flocking and add ballast to round out the realistic effect. In this case, I just buried the tree into my garden, set up my background and took my final photos. 


Don't know how to make paper mache? Mix equal parts flour and water to make paper mache paste. Dip strips of newspaper into the paste, gently squeeze the excess off and then apply the strips to your base. Let dry for 24 hours till hard then decorate!


Organic material:
1). Root from old weeds
2). Small branch tips from a tree
3). Dried ivy or Morning Glory vines (mesh or wire form can be substituted)

Styrofoam form or cardboard (for base)
Spray adhesive
Padded envelopes
Green ground flocking
Hot glue gun