Winter Landscaping: Tips and Tricks for Creating a Winter Layout

At this time of year, we’re all thinking about what we can do to create an inspirational winter layout, teeming with realism and seasonal features that makes us feel like we’ve stepped into a true winter wonderland. 

Let’s take a look at how you can create a stunning winter layout by following a few simple tips and tricks.

Don’t Be Too Obsessed with Christmas!

It’s easy to think of winter as just Christmas. But doing so limits you to scenes that only work if they’re centered around a Christmas tree, or have a distinct “Christmas town” feature as the centerpiece of the layout.

Remember, Christmas is one day! And even though you may be feeling the spirit of the holidays for a few weeks, the winter season lasts three months. So when building your layout, think about what the winter season looks like in general, rather than focusing on Christmas. Your scene might not even need snow! 

Don’t Just Add “Snow” to an Existing Layout

This is probably the biggest mistake people can make when creating winter layouts.

Most people tend to model summer, since lush greenery can be seen throughout several seasons. But when winter arrives, some are tempted to just add “snow” to their existing layout!

This is a bad idea for several reasons. 

Practically, you’ve likely spent months to years putting together your existing scene. With all those details already in place, adding snow is a major commitment, and one which you can’t easily backtrack on. Even the most arid desert scenes will retain much of the material, no matter how hard you try to remove it.  

Then there’s the aesthetics of the layout – think about the world around us during winter. The colors, the brisk air, the snow covered trees. What we don’t see is snow on bright flowers and fully blossomed trees, which is what you’ll get by just adding snow. 

Perhaps most importantly, loose “snow” can cause major problems to your layout. Without being intentionally placed and fixed down as a primary material, you run the risk of experiencing a host of electrical and gearing issues which could damage both your trackwork and your locomotives. 

Strip Everything and Start Again

If you’re certain that you want to transform your layout into a winter scene, the best thing to do is start from scratch. That’s right, all the way down to the baseboard! 

From here, we recommend starting with a layer of insulation foam to mold into the shape of your desired landscape, and to insulate the sound from the tracks. At this point, you can choose just how much snow you want to incorporate. For heavy, deep snow, take some latex or acrylic paint, and paint your whole base white. Alternatively, if you want to replicate a lighter snowfall, with more detail showing through, start with a brown or “burnt umber” paint as you would with a normal layout. 

Add Scenery Before You Add “Snow”

Whether you go for the white base or not, you’ll likely want to add “snow” material for a more realistic and textured look. 

When taking this approach, you’ll want pretty much everything in place before you begin the process. That means track, buildings, trees, bushes, and whatever initial groundcover you use should already be installed before the snow begins to “fall” (Remember, winter themed trees and shrubs should be used!). Following this approach will allow you to replicate realistic snow buildup throughout the scene, over tracks, roads, buildings, and trees. Just remember to fix it all down as you would with normal scenery material, and ensure that the railheads are clear on all tracks before doing so!  

If you’d rather keep things simple, and build your winter scene without actual snow material, you can buy accessories that come pre-decorated with snow, or you can take appropriate trees and plants in your layout and apply a thin layer of white paint to the top and edges of them.

Check out this post from last year for a step by step guide on building a snow scene from the ground up!

Adding Ice and Icicles to Your Scene

There are a number of great ways you can add ice and icicles to your winter scene.

If you’re looking to add ice, one of the most effective methods is to use a small mirror. Craft stores will usually sell these, although you may need to get your own cut if you need it to fit a specific space. Once installed, just add a thin layer of soft flake snow and perhaps some ice skaters, and you’ll have a perfect frozen winter pond! For small patches of ice on streets, platforms, and below gutters, clear acrylic sheets (also available at craft stores) can be cut to size and placed over the painted surface with clear-drying superglue. 

When it comes to icicles, you can have loads of fun. All you need is some clear acrylic gloss gel, a clear bristled toothbrush, scissors, and a set of tweezers, and you’re good to go. Simply cut the bristles from the toothbrush at random lengths for realism, and use the tweezers to dip them in the gloss gel. The gel will double as the glue, at which point the icicles can be added to the ends of tree branches and along the roofs of buildings and other structures.

Another great way to get an ice and icicle effect is to simply paint gloss gel on the sides of buildings and structures – if you have things like water tanks and billboards in your layout, these work great. All you’ve got to do is let the gloss gel naturally run down the sides of the structure.

Some of the layouts in this previous blog post include these features.

Building Your Winter Scene

The beauty of building a winter scene is that you can achieve a realistic appearance with just a few simple ideas such as these. Got any of your own tricks you’d like to show us? Send us a direct message with photos of your winter layout to our Facebook page