What In The World Is Hypertufa?
Hypertufa is simply man made “tufa” which is a very porous stone used to make livestock watering troughs years and years ago in the areas surrounding England, Scotland and Ireland. The rustic look became popular when garden lovers started converting these troughs to planters.
Hypertufa seeks to mimic the rustic look of these old old troughs and these cement based pots are actually very easy and fun to make. By the way, as you read through, click any image to enlarge 🙂
The Hypertufa Recipe
The Ingredients are readily available and consist of:
- Portland Cement (NOT CONCRETE)
- Peat Moss
- Pearlite or vermiculite or a little of both.
- Water (less than you’d think)
NOTE…Anyone touching the cement mixture needs kitchen type rubber gloves. Cement is very Caustic! Wear a dust mask when mixing ingredients. You don’t want to breathe the cement dust OR the peat moss dust. Once cement is mixed with water, you won’t need the mask but you WILL need the gloves.
Making Hypertufa Planters
You’ll find hypertufa cement recipes vary, but an easy one is one part of each ingredient. In other words they use 1 part cement to one part peat moss, to one part perlite. The measurement is done by volume. So if you are using say a gallon bucket, you’d mix 1 bucket of peat moss (make sure this is crumbly and the pieces are not too big.) 1 bucket of Perlite, and 1 bucket of cement. Add water slowly and mix until the consistency is like oat meal. You can mix it in a bucket, or a container for small batches. It may seem dryer than you’d expect but you want it just wet enough to make a ball in your hands without falling apart and without weeping out a bunch of water when you squeeze it. If you accidentally overdo the water, adding a little more cement will dry it up. Portland Cement comes in both gray (most common) and white. You can use either. As you advance, you can try cement dye to make colored creations. Add sparingly and experiment with small batches first 🙂
Containers abound to create your masterpieces. Throwaway plastic containers work great, milk cartons, styrofoam coolers, cool whip containers, just about anything you want to use will work. Some folks make molds from wood, styrofoam or cardboard. Others actually dig a mold into gravel or the ground. This works great for larger projects. The methods are many and none are wrong so feel free to experiment.
Mold in mold systems can be interesting as well. This is done by setting your pot floor, then putting in a smaller container and filling around the edges, pressing firmly to be sure there are no air pockets. I used this method on this hypertufa fire bowl I created. The center holds a can of sterno, which burns cleanly for hours. The beach stones and fossilized bones were glued onto the top.Click here
While some recommend mold release products or Pam to keep the mixture from sticking.. I tend to use a plastic grocery bag to line the vessel. When the mixture is hard, after 24-48 hours, all you have to do is grab the handle of the bag and pull it out of the mold. I like the texture it leaves on the outside of the trough or pot. If you want very smooth sides, then you can use Pam or olive oil on your container. Typically though, the cement mixture will shrink a little away from your mold as it it’s curing, so your don’t HAVE to use anything. It will release from a plastic mold.
Working With Your Hypertufa Mix
If you are opting to build your sides rather than using the mold in mold method, pack the bottom of your mold first and push hard into the corners to be sure you are tight with the mold vessel. Then start adding cement mix up and building your walls. Concentrate on even thickness as you build up the cement to the top of your mold. The bottom should be at least an inch thick for a small pot but it usually ends up being a little more than that which is fine. Larger troughs should be 1.5 to 2 inches. Keep an eye on your wall thickness and at the top of your wall… make sure that the the level is pretty even. That being said one of my favorite pots was made intentionally with unlevel sides.
Once your hypertufa pots are complete.. if you have used the grocery bag method, just fold up the edges of your bag over your pot and walk away. Leave your pots out of direct sun to begin curing. In 24 hours you can
usually go ahead and pull your pot out of the mold. Larger molds? Better safe than sorry. Let it sit and dampen the concrete while it cures. I usually leave my projects in the mold for a few days. Cement needs water to cure and i sprinkle some in daily. After about a week for your larger hypertufa projects, Just pull the bag handles to release your hypertufa pot from the mold and remove the bag. Set somewhere shady and keep them moist for a while. Some even place their pots in water to cure. This is not a bad practice, because it allows the alkalines in the cement mix to leach into the water. They should be outside during the final cure. A hurry up method to release the alkaline substance is to soak your pots in A dilute muriatic acid bath. This will also remove a slick edge. 2 cups of muriatic acid to 2 gallons of water. Carefully place your pot in the mix and let it soak. It will bubble up violently so handle with care and use gloves when extracting. Your pot can remain in this mixture for 15 minutes or longer. When you remove it, rinse it and blast it with a high pressure hose nozzle to reveal the aggregates within.
Many plants thrive in hypertufa pots. I think it has something to do with the peat moss in the mixture and the fact that the pot will absorb moisture, giving it back to the plant It’s also a cooling planted place. Great for hot weather. I love using 2 inch foliage plants like in the featured image in my plantings. There are so many textures and colors! Succulents also LOVE hypertufa! They grow right into the walls eventually.
There are lots of resources on the internet for learning more about hypertufa. I just discovered this site which looks promising.. http://hypertufamanual.com/hypertufa-molds-ideas-and-materials/
Another fantastic resource is Blue Fox Farms! OMG Fantastic hypertufa and rustic garden eye candy and inspiration. Our Pinterest board for hypertufa is a great resource as well!