Hypertufa Garden Container
Making Creative Stone Garden Containers
Do you like the look of the old stone planters that were used in the Alpine regions of old or perhaps containers you may have seen in old English gardens covered with moss and lichen patinas? If you do, you can achieve this same look by using a garden craft called "hypertufa" to replicate those old stone containers.
Hypertufa is a messy and easy garden craft. Its creations resemble heavy rock containers. It is made from materials you can purchase at any home improvement store and easily mix up at home. The finished products look like they were skillfully carved out of stone instead of mixed Quickrete medium.
It only takes a few simple ingredients to make fabulous containers for displaying rock-garden plants, Alpine gardens, or succulent plant displays. Working with this medium is like making adult mud pies.
There are probably as many different recipes for the mixture as there are gardeners, so I will only give you my favorite. It is super inexpensive, and the creative possibilities for shapes, sizes, and colors are almost endless.
On this page, you will discover how to make hypertufa garden containers along with the resources for making even more creative hypertufa garden art.
A Simple Technique
The way I do it is much easier that the way some folks like to use a box-in-a-box technique that sandwiches hypertufa and chicken wire in a boxed frame.
Instead, I like to simply pack the hypertufa medium mixture around an upside down plastic pot or planter. And because it's so easy to work with, kind of like working with play-dough, it can be molded into any shape you like.
By pressing leaves, flowers, or other interesting pieces of vegetation into the wet mud, you can create interesting decorative pattern designs. Get creative and sculpt it into pieces that bring interest into your garden.
Supplies You Will Need
- Peat moss
- Perlite (for pots) or vermiculite (for sculpture)
- Portland Cement Type I/ll
- Coconut Coir Fibers or Concrete Reinforcing fibers
- Container for measuring
- Large mixing tub (a wheelbarrow works really well)
- Rubber gloves
- Safety Glasses
- Dust mask
- Plastic tarp
- Plastic container for a mold
- Wire brush
- Mold release spray or inexpensive oil (use whatever is the cheapest and most plentiful)
- Rubber mallet
Adding Color to the Mix
Tips on the Kind of Container Forms NOT to Use
There are as many recipes for hypertufa plant containers as there are gardeners. I like my concrete recipe because it is so much easier to work with. Some folks like to make it difficult by embedding sheets of chicken wire into the hypertufa mixture. Here is my easy "nickels worth" way of mixing.
I like to add strength to my container mixture to ensure the container will last longer. Adding sand makes a more durable, and heavier pot than just using perlite or vermiculite by itself.
Also adding a handful of coconut fiber or fiber-mesh (a synthetic concrete reinforcing fiber) to each batch will strengthen the pot.
Whenever possible I like using coconut fiber best as a peat moss replacement. It is better for the environment as a sustainable renewable product.
You can usually find coconut coir fiber readily available at home improvement stores such as Lowe's, Ace Hardware, Home Depot, and fiber-mesh at masonry supply stores, or online at Amazon. If you can't find it at any of these places, then peat moss is fine.
I like to use an old wheelbarrow to mix up my hypertufa, but you can use anything you like.
Quikrete Portland Cement
It is important to ONLY use Portland cement in the hypertufa mix. Do NOT use regular concrete cement. Regular cement will not work. Portland cement doesn't have any aggregate in it. This is a 47 lb. (27.3 kg) bag and the shipping is free.
Compressed Coconut Coir Fiber Growing Potting Mix
This is the best price I could find for a 11 pounds of the medium. The larger the quantity you get the better the price. The shipping is free for Amazon Prime members.
- 2 part Portland cement
- 3 parts sphagnum peat moss
- 2 parts perlite (or vermiculite)
- handful or two of coconut coir fiber or fiber-mesh
- 1 part sand for strength
- Measure and mix the cement, peat moss, perlite (or vermiculite), and a couple big handfuls of reinforcing coconut fiber, or fiber mesh, in your wheelbarrow or tub. It's pretty dusty, so you'll want to be wearing your safety goggles and a dust mask at this stage. It's important to protect your lungs and eyes from the fine dust particles.
- Add the water, while stirring with your trowel, until it reaches the consistency of cooked oatmeal. Test the consistency while mixing. Remember, it's much easier to add water than it is to have to readjust the dry ingredients. The mix is ready when a handful is squeezed and holds its shape without releasing more than a few drops of water.
- Place the object you have chosen to be your container's shape upside down on your plastic tarp. Pat the cement mixture around your chosen plastic form (such as a foam ice chest) or into a mold (such as a round plastic bowl or a plastic dishpan). Avoid objects with a large lip because it will make the object difficult to remove from the finished stone container.
- Pack the mixture around the sides of the object, tamping it down firmly to bond the hypertufa to itself and to avoid a crumbly texture. At least a 1- to 2-inch layer on all sides will create strong walls.
- Pat the intended bottom to flatten it out so it will sit flat when it is finished and shape the sides to create the desired thickness of your chosen form.
- If you would like to create a pretty embossed design effect on your container, now is the time do it. Dress up your container by pressing evergreen sprigs, leaves, flowers, or anything you like, around the rim of the mold before you start building the sides of your container. Next, insert a PVC pipe, or a dowel, into the center of the bottom of your pot to create a drainage hole for the plant container.
- Wrap the container in plastic sheeting or in plastic bags, and leave in a shady spot to dry and harden for about 24 hours.
- Remove the plastic wrapping after the hypertufa has hardened for 24 hours. The container will be firm, but will still be soft enough to be pliable. Brush the sharp edges and smooth the top, if desired. To give a rougher, more natural look to the container, score the surface with a hammer or file to give it an "aged" look.
- Take out the PVC pipe to reveal the drainage hole and turn the container over. Gently lift to remove the evergreen sprigs or leaves, if you used any. Remove the mold or container.
- Re-wrap your container, and place it in a shady place for another two days. After the 48 hours, unwrap it and soak it with a hose periodically over the next couple weeks to leach out the residual lime from the cement, which is toxic and will harm plants. Remember to be patient. The longer it dries the stronger it gets.
Coconut Coir is the best alternative for peat moss. It is a sustainable renewable product replacement to peat moss. If it is available to you, it can completely replace the peat moss. if not, just use the peat moss, perlite and sand.
Fabulous Garden Art & Container IdeasClick thumbnail to view full-size
Hypertufa Garden Art Project Idea Videos
These videos have some fabulous garden art ideas to help you unfurl your creativity using hypertufa medium.
A Giant Garden Snail! Recipes and Tips for Planters, Troughs and Garden Sculptures
In this video she first shows how she makes her planter containers. To get to the sculpture technique segment of the video, fast forward to 2:34.
Add Mosaic Pieces
I like to save broken pottery to use in hypertufa projects. In the last home I owned, I had a big box of red and white transferware pieces that came from a set of old china. My "smoother movers" dropped the box of china and the pieces shattered.
You know the old saying, "When given lemons make a cocktail!" So I did. I made a cocktail and went to work making a mosaic hypertufa birdbath for our garden.
It turned out beautifully. I wish I still had the photos.
When I made my birdbath, after it had dried sufficiently I took white grout and covered all the gray portland cement showing between the pieces. I think the white looked much better with the red and white china pieces.
The hypertufa stepping stones (shown below) are a great example of how stunning a mosaic can turn out.
If you don't have any broken crockery, keep your eyes peeled at garage sales this summer for colorful oddball plates, cups, and saucers. I like to use a tile cutting tool to cut pieces into the size I need.