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The MasterGardening.com Blog

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When more and more gardeners are discovering their love of the plant world via saving some dollars on food, medical remedies, cosmetics, and the many other things that can be made in the garden, it stands to reason that when an expensive gardening trend comes around, there’s always a smarty-pants gardener who figures out how to make it for next to nothing (usually out of garbage).

Heavy duty stone pots are incredibly popular for their rugged rustic look and durability in the elements. The tipping and cracking of plastic or lightweight ceramic pots isn’t a problem, and after a while outdoors, the rough surface of the pot becomes the perfect home for attractive mosses and lichens. While these are available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, the troughs are possibly the most popular, resembling very old livestock watering troughs or being actual repurposed animal troughs. The problem with nearly all of these planters, however, is the price tag that comes with them. Ordinary stone pots and containers can start at around three figures, and reproduction stone troughs can cost hundreds. Want the real thing? An antique livestock trough might run you more than a grand (and that’s before you remember that you’re shipping something weighing a few hundred pounds overseas—that’s not going to be cheap either).

So, one day, a smarty-pants gardener (or, as some rumor has it, a smarty-pants person who was tired of dealing with ridiculously heavy troughs), “pfftt, bet I can make that.” And then a low-cost, lightweight, and equally beautiful DIY solution was found. Hypertufa pots are simple to make, and more importantly, achieve 100% of the aesthetic of the fancy stone pots in stores at a tenth of the price. In fact, it’s possible that you have a lot of the required materials to make them in your garage or shed already, in which case, it’ll cost nothing. That sounds a whole lot better than the hundreds of dollars we were talking about, right?

Making one of these DIY stone pots is as simple as filling a set of molds with a wet material, allowing it to dry, and popping the molds off. The wet material you’ll be mixing is called, hypertufa, an aggregate of Portland cement and a few other ingredients to give it a rough finished look and stability. The hypertufa product you create will look like stone and feel like stone, but it will be very cost-effective and much lighter than stone, so you won’t need a fork lift to move it around in the garden.

Materials

Portland cement (not concrete—this is not the same thing)

Peat moss

Vermiculite or perlite

Seriously, that’s it. Well, except for the mold (this could be the part where garbage comes in!). Depending on what shape you want your container to be, you’ll need to find two molds that will create that shape, i.e. a cylinder, box, trough, bowl. One mold will shape the inside of the container, and the other will shape the outside, so one container should be able to fit inside of the other. Some tutorials will have you build two boxes out of plywood, but you don’t need to. Cardboard boxes, old take-out containers, cans, buckets, Tupperware, or any old things you have laying around that you aren’t too worried about messing up. Reusing a few things in the recycling bin is a good idea.

Tools

2 container molds

Protective clothing (gloves and a mask are a must)

Wheel barrow or mixing bucket

Wire brush

Tarp or plastic sheet

Shovel, spade, or spoon (something to mix the hypertufa, fill the mold, and smooth it out)

Wooden pegs (the desired width your drainage holes will be, and two inches long)

Here’s what you do:

  • Mix up your hypertufa in your wheelbarrow using this recipe: 1 part Portland cement to 1 ½ parts peat to 1 ½ part vermiculite or perlite. Some experts recommend throwing in a handful of concrete reinforcement fibers or sand to create stronger walls—this is not absolutely required, but you can if you want to. When you have gotten the correct consistency, the hypertufa mix should hold its shape and only release a few drops of water when you squeeze it in your hand.
  • Prepare a space outdoors where you can make your pot and leave it to cure undisturbed for several days afterward. Pick a cool, shady place where the hypertufa can dry and harden very slowly—if left in a hot and bright spot, it will dry too quickly and become brittle.
  • Grab your outer mold (let’s assume it is a cardboard box). Place it on your work surface, and pack the bottom with your hypertufa mix. Create a bottom layer of hypertufa that’s about one to two inches thick. Use your spade to smooth it out as best as you can.
  • Grab your wooden pegs. Stick these into the bottom layer of hypertufa where you want your drainage holes to be. You will knock these out after the pot has cured.
  • Place your inside mold, the smaller box, into the larger box and center it. Being sure to keep the inner box center, pack the gap between the two walls of the boxes with hypertufa. Fill the gap all the way to the top of the boxes, and when you’re finished, drag your spade along the top edge to smooth it out.
  • Cover your molds and hypertufa with your plastic sheet or tarp. Let the whole thing sit for one to three days. You will know you are ready to move on when the hypertufa becomes completely firm, but can still be scratched with your spade.
  • When your pot has cured enough, remove the plastic, and carefully pop your molds off of your pot. Use your wire brush to smooth out your walls, round the edges, or add desired texture. Now is also the time where you might want to use your spade or some other tool to scratch, chip, or distress your pot. Oh, and don’t forget to pop those drainage pegs out, too.
  • Rewrap your pot, and let it sit a second time for several days to several weeks. What you are looking for is a light “dried” color, and for your pot to be significantly lighter when picked up.
  • When your pot appears completely cured and ready to go, you will need to leach the lime out of it with water. You can do this by soaking it with a hose every day for at least a week or keeping it filled to the top with water for at least a week. Leaching it for longer is probably a good idea.
  • After the pot has been leached, you are ready to fill it with soil and begin planting!

Photos:

Top: © FineGardening.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Bottom:  © Masooo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

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