Old stone sinks and animal troughs are popular garden fixtures and I want one.
If I were to stumble upon one at the flea market or salvage yard, I’m sure I would flush with excitement. With blood pressure rising and little beads of sweat beginning to drip from my brow, it would take every ounce of restraint I have not to barrel my way through whatever obstacle stood between me and it. As I make my way over to my treasure, I nonchalantly glance at its price tag and reality hits. Actually, the reality was always there but a girl has to dream.
Being a realist, I know if I were to run across an old stone piece… my trek to the price tag would be more like Dead Man Walking. These items are in high demand and scarfed up like hot-cakes by gardeners with bigger budgets than mine.
There is cause for rejoicing because those of us on limited budgets can make our own artificial stone garden troughs and planters… yea!!!
Hypertufa planters are substantial (not as heavy as concrete) so they won’t blow about in a good wind… I like this. What I don’t like is the restraint involved in the project. Such as… it’s not suggested that you pop the mold the day after you’ve crafted your planter and begin filling it with plants. The curing process (BORING!) is what will give your planter strength and durability.
Once you get your hands dirty making your first planters, there are sure to be more hypertufa projects. Bird baths, stepping stones, straddle stones, sculpture… the possibilities are endless. Google hypertufa images and see what pops up.
Almost anything can be used as a mold. Plastic containers, corrugated cardboard boxes, holes dug in the ground. The perfectionist in me would suggest that whatever you use for your mold, make sure it will hold its original form when filled with a heavy, wet mixture. A reinforced corrugated cardboard box will hold it’s shape where as a light-weight shoe box will become bulged on the sides. But if all you have is a shoe-box… the artsy, fun side in me says go ahead and create.
You can find all kinds of recipes for hypertufa on the Web, so keep in mind it’s not an exact science — you are allowed to play!
If your sensitive to certain materials wear rubber gloves and a dust mask while mixing the ingrediants. If your making a large container or trough (2′ x 3′) you will want to add an acrylic fiber to the mix or you can sandwich some chicken wire between layers of the mix.
Tools and Materials
- Peat moss
- Portland cement
- Container for mixing
- Spray cooking oil
- Dowels for drain-holes
- Plastic bags
- Wire brush or sandpaper
- Mix equal parts perlite, peat moss, and Portland cement in a plastic tub. Add acrylic fibers if necessary, for strength (the 3 planters above took 16 quarts).
- Add water a little at a time. The mixture should be the consistency of moist cottage cheese. Squeeze a little in your hand and it should drip a little water.
- If using plastic molds, spray the inside of mold with cooking oil and start pushing handfuls of mixture firmly against the bottom of the mold. Depending on the size of your mold the thickness will vary. For my planters, I made my base and walls about 1 1/2 inches thick. Continue mashing the mixture into your form until it has the desired depth. Keep playing around (because it’s fun) smooshing out all the air pockets.
Create drainage by poking your finger into the bottom of the mold. You can use small dowels or corks too. Just make sure it penetrates to the bottom of the mixture.
Cover with plastic bag and let cure for at least 24 hours. Make sure the surface your container cures on is level.
Remove plastic and take your container out of its mold. Remove the dowel from drainage hole. Your pot will be slightly wet and not very strong.
Using a wire brush or sandpaper sponge, gently rough up the surface of the hypertufa for a more rustic appearance. I used a wire brush to get rid of the impression from the mold.
Now it’s time for more restraint:
Stuff your container back into the bag and continue to cure for at least a week… some sites will say 2 weeks. This step will strengthen your container.
Some hints for the curing process…
- Concrete cures with the presence of water
- Mist every so often so the container doesn’t dry too fast
- Pick a place that is out of direct sunlight so the container cures evenly
Cement is made from limestone aggregates and is alkaline and can cause the soil planted in your container to become alkaline in nature as well. This would be fine if you plan on using it for alkaline loving plants. Leach your container by spraying with water a couple of times a day for a few days. To further neutralize the alkalinity, Use a solution of 1/4 cup vinegar to 1 gallon of water. Scrub your container with this mixture and if possible immerse for about ½ hour. If you want to promote the growth of moss or lichens, you don’t want to skip this step as they prefer an acidic base.
Customize your pots:
- During the mixing process, add cement pigment for color. Pigment can be found at Home Depot in the masonry aisle
- Boil rice in water, and strain off the water. Once it’s cooled, spray on your container. The glutinous mixture will allow spores of moss to stick and give it a start to grow on. After it’s established, the moss will continue growing on the hypertufa.
- Mix yogurt (the live strain) with water to dilute it and spray your hypertufa creation.
If you decide to make a bird bath the hypertufa should be about 3″ thick. It is porous, so to make it hold water pour hot liquid paraffin around the basin.
When I got my supplies, I purchased a huge bale of peat moss. As I researched hypertufa, I found out that some don’t agree with using peat moss as an ingrediant. It’s a sustainability issue and I understand. So, after I use up my bail, I will look for alternitives, maybe coconut coir. Anyone out there with suggestions, let me know.
If your not the crafty type and you are in the Sarasota area, Bloomin’ Crazy will be happy to create a one of a kind container garden of your very own.