In the gardening world, it is very trendy to make hypertufa garden troughs for planting succulents and miniature plants. Hypertufa is simply a man-made imitation of light weight tufa rock which can be molded into planters. Troughs are pretty easy to construct and a whole lot cheaper than purchasing a pre-made one. A sizeable trough around 15″ long can set you back at least $50. The cost of making several of your own will cost less than $20 in materials so it is worthwhile to make them.
Any Excuse for a Party!
Recently, I invited about a dozen friends over for a ‘trough-making party’ with instructions that I would provide all the materials and they would just need to bring a mold, with a face mask and gloves. A mold could be a sturdy box, a straight sided Tupperware container or just an old Styrofoam ice chest. It all depends on the shape and size of trough that you want.
You need a bag of Portland cement which comes in 96 pound sizes at the hardware store and will make lots of troughs. Peat moss and perlite or builder’s sand are the rest of the ingredients and are readily available at a nursery.
Find a large mixing tub and dump in two parts Portland cement, two parts of peat moss, and one part of perlite or builder’s sand and mix with a shovel until all lumps are gone. I also add some fiberglass fibers that strengthens the mix, which can be found at a good hardware store. Face masks are important at this stage as the dust can really irritate your throat. Add water from a hose and mix until the mixture resembles cottage cheese. This takes a lot of heavy lifting to mix it thoroughly. We took turns at the work which added to the party atmosphere. Once you think you have added enough water, take a handful of the mixture and squeeze it and if the ball holds together, it is ready to use.
Molding – The Fun Begins!
Molding and forming the trough is the fun part. Everyone brought their mold inverted onto a sturdy piece of plywood so that they can transport it home easily. We covered the molds with a piece of old trash bag which greatly simplifies the removal of the mold from the hypertufa. After donning their gloves, people dove into the tub and grabbed handfuls of the mixture and start covering their mold with a two inch layer of cement mixture. It is important to have good coverage so that the walls are sturdy and won’t cave in. I had dowels ready for people to stick into the bottom of the their troughs for drainage holes.
Curing – I Can’t Wait!!!
After everyone had thoroughly coated their mold and smoothed the bottom and sides, we took a break and admired everyone’s creations. At that point, the troughs are ready to be taken home and cured. Curing simply means that the cement has to dry slowly to avoid any cracks forming. To do this, simply mist the container once a day and cover the trough with a piece of plastic to hold in the moisture. You can’t rush this step and it will take a couple of weeks to fully harden and cure.
After waiting impatiently for about a month, the moment of truth arrives and you can turn the hypertufa over and remove the mold. At that time, you can fill it will soil and plant with succulents or miniature plants. Your completed trough will last for years outside and will eventually grow moss to make it look like an antique planter.
I have started making some mini troughs which are a lot less work. I just select a tupperware container and line it with my plastic and start pressing in the mixture inside the container. When it hardens in a week, I just grab the plastic and lift it out and voila, it is done. So easy! I am going to make a lot of these.