Even though the growing season is nearing its end, it's never too late to make hypertufa garden containers to adorn a deck, patio, walkway or to give as a gift. Just about any size and shape of container can be made using different molds.

But just what is hypertufa?

Natural tufa is a spongy, porous rock that was cut out and used many years ago for animal watering troughs. Gardeners found these troughs to be wonderful planters as porous rocks are very suitable for plant growth.

Hypertufa is a man-made rock that is created by using different aggregates that are bonded together with Portland cement. Hypertufa containers might look heavy, but are actually lightweight due to the mixture of Portland cement, peat moss and perlite.

There are many different methods and ways to make Hypertufa troughs and vessels. The directions that follow are just what I used.

As the seasons pass, these containers will take on an ancient weathered look with moss growing on them. Why not create a container garden like no other-just use your imagination-the possibilities are endless.

Materials: Portland cement; peat moss; perlite; dust mask; rubber gloves; plastic drop cloth; trowel; wire brush; plastic containers for molds; trash bags; five-gallon container; water; one quart can; dowel (cut into 4" pieces); fiber mesh; spray bottle; wire mesh; terra cotta colorant (optional)/

Instructions for a Hypertufa garden container (makes two 8" pots or one large pot):

For the mixture: Use three parts Portland cement (do not use Quickcrete cement); four parts peat moss; five parts perlite; handful of fiber mesh; water and cement terra cotta colorant, if you wish

Step 1: To begin, lay out a plastic drop cloth and put on a dust mask and gloves. Measure the following ingredients using a two-cup dispenser: Three parts Portland cement (do not use Quickcrete cement), four parts peat moss, five parts perlite, a handful of fiber mesh, water and cement terra cotta colorant (optional). This mixture that will make two 8-inch or one large hypertufa pots. Then, mix the dry ingredients well. Add water very slowly and mix with trowel until the mixture keeps its shape when you squeeze it with your hands.

Step 2: Lay a cut up plastic trash bag along the bottom and sides of the larger mold. Place the mixture on the bottom of the large mold about 1 1/2- to 2-inches thick and then along the sides with the same thickness. Using the dowels, make a drainage hole (or holes) in the bottom of the mold and remove.

Step 3: If you're using a large plastic dishpan, find another plastic container that fits inside the dishpan, but allows for two or three inches of space on every side, to use as a mold. Place the smaller mold in the center of the large mold and pack the mixture tightly up to the sides and the top of the larger mold. Use a trowel to flatten top and lightly spray it with water to smooth out.

Step 4: Let the piece cure for 48 hours, then carefully remove the center mold. If your piece appears to be sturdy enough, gently turn it over and remove the outside mold and plastic. You can use a wire brush carefully to score and scrape the outside of your pot. Allow the piece to air dry for about a week. When it dries, it will be much lighter.

Step 5: After allowing your planter to air dry for a week, you'll need to prep it for planting. Because the lime in the cement can harm plants, a mixture of a 1/2 cup of white vinegar and half a gallon of water can be used to clean the inside of your pot. Allow to dry completely. Then, place screen wire mesh over the hole in the bottom of the planter. This will keep slugs from entering and soil from falling out. Add soil and a slow-growing, alpine or rock garden plant or succulent and cover soil in between the plans with about 1/4-inch of small stones or pea gravel.

Step 6: Finished Hypertufa containers are lightweight and offer zen-like design with simple lines and earthy colors. Place containers in a protected area where they will receive the morning or late afternoon sun. Watering the plants regularly will avoid the container from becoming too dry and brittle. Bring the plants and containers inside during the winter months.

Linda Alger is the administrative assistant to the Attleboro Municipal Council and is a local artist who is very involved in the Attleboro art community. She can be reached at BEAKERALG@AOL.COM (please include the word "CRAFTS" in subject block). Any letters she receives may be used in future columns so please include your name and daytime telephone.

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