Blog

How To: Make a Hypertufa Planter

Make a Hypertufa Planter

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).

Smart gardeners planting methods

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?

Hypertufa

Hypertufa

Making one of these DIY stone pots is as simple as filling a set of moulds with a wet material, allowing it to dry, and popping the moulds 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 mould (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 moulds that will create that shape, i.e. a cylinder, box, trough, bowl. One mould 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 moulds
– 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 mould, and smooth it out)
– Wooden pegs (the desired width your drainage holes will be, and two inches long)

Hypertufa pots

Hypertufa pots

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 fibres 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 mould (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 mould, the smaller box, into the larger box and center it. Being sure to keep the inner box centre, 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.

Make a Hypertufa Planter

Make a Hypertufa Planter

Cover your moulds 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 moulds 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” colour, 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!

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

The Art of Raised Bed Gardening

“The yard didn’t really have any plants in it except for an unknown and overgrown tree, so I thought, I’ll prune it back and dig up a small flower bed underneath for some summer bulbs. I wanted to make a nice little spot for hanging out when the weather was nicer. So, I handled the tree, bought a fancy new shovel, and went berserk at the nursery buying flowers. Once I edged out the shape I wanted and tore up the grass, I figured I was just going to dig a big hole, add some compost to the soil, and fill it back up. Piece of cake, right? Wrong.

Gardening Raised Beds

Gardening Raised Beds

It took me three days to dig the hole. I have never seen so many rocks in my life—and big ones. I couldn’t push my fancy new shovel a half a centimetre into the ground without hitting a meteorite, remains of an ancient city, or a fossilised skeleton of a dinosaur from the Triassic period. I had to stop and dig out chunks of rock every few minutes. Then, there were the roots of this tree everywhere. It was a total pain. I eventually got it all planted, and now I have gladiolus and lilies poking out everywhere, but I don’t know if I want to go through putting in any more beds. I just can’t deal with the rocks and clay and roots. On the plus side, I didn’t have to buy any edging. I just used my giant pile of rocks.

Oh, that tree? It ended up being a helicopter tree.”

Installing her very first flower bed

That is the experience one of our staff members had installing her very first flower bed, and we’ve all had them. Installing and maintaining a flower bed or edible garden in the ground can be difficult—once you have put the labor into creating and digging the bed, the work doesn’t stop. Deficient or compacted soils must be amended and maintained, and weeds and pests are a constant battle. All of this hands-and-knees work can be rough on the body, and can make gardening an impossibility for some. There are also the space constraints of urban growing environments, and the damage that can be done by pets and children. These problems can be solved by raised bed gardening. Though many people shy away from installing a raised bed either because of the assembly or the monetary investment, a raised bed will save you from a lot of the labor and money that maintaining an in-ground garden can require.

Gardening Raised Beds

Gardening Raised Beds

Raised and framed beds are planting areas that are placed on top of the ground level and enclosed inside of a frame.

This eliminates the digging of holes and the use of tillers or large equipment to prepare a spot for gardening. The frame is simply placed in the desired location in the yard, and it can be filled with best soil for what is being planted, instead of dealing with diagnosing soil problems and treating them and mixing in amendments.

In fact, this is one of the ways raised bed gardening is cost-effective. A lot of money can be spent on amending and re-amending soil that erodes, compacts, and loses nutrients quickly. The frame of a raised bed protects it from erosion and acts as a barrier between your garden and tiny feet or paws that might smash or tamp the dirt down while playing (not to mention, smash or tamp your plants down). You don’t have to use your own soil at all, and can start with healthy and nutritious soil from the beginning that will be much easier to keep healthy and nutritious and at the desired pH for your plants. You also won’t have to spend money on costly equipment to keep the soil loose. Plants will be happier and more productive in good soil, getting you more bang for your buck in flower and fruit or vegetable yields.

Lettuce in raised bed garden

Lettuce in raised bed garden

The increased ease of access is what attracts many people to raised bed gardening in the first place.

With fewer pests and weeds intruding and damaging plants, less soil maintenance being necessary, those with injuries or limited mobility may find raised bed a much easier option for gardening. Raised beds may be just a foot or two off the ground to reduce bending or kneeling, or elevated much higher on legs to eliminate bending and kneeling altogether. This reduction in physical effort required to garden might also make it easier for children to participate in gardening with adults.

Another advantage of raised bed gardening is that a raised bed can offer you some creative ways to use a small or odd-shaped space. Raised beds can be customised to the size of the space you are using, and can be arranged and designed to make the most of a particular area, especially where traditional in-ground gardens aren’t possible. For example, on slopes, several small raised beds could be stacked like stairs down a slope, creating different tiers for gardening. Different shapes and materials could be used to stack beds in unique formations for a tall and visually-striking garden. In fact, gardeners have used just about everything to build raised gardens. Old crates, barrels, furniture, found rocks, cans, tires, buckets, fences, and wood pallets can be combined in exciting ways to make gardening easier for you and create quite a conversation piece for your yard. Raised beds can help you recycle old objects, enhance the interest and beauty of your landscape, and help you take advantage of tight spaces. What isn’t to like?

Gardening Raised Beds

Gardening Raised Beds

There are a few other perks of having a bed that isn’t built right in the ground. For renters or those not expecting to stay in one place for very long, raised beds can be disassembled and taken with you when you leave a property. Renters, in particular, can benefit from raised beds that don’t make serious alterations to the grounds that might make the owner unhappy. Raised beds also have the capacity to make your growing season longer—cold frames or protective covers can be purchased or built to fit snugly over a raised bed to keep plants warm and safe from frost, allowing you to enjoy them longer.

If you would like to give raised bed gardening a try, here are a few tips to help you get the most from your garden:

  • If you are building a raised bed in response to a rodent or pest problem, putting your raised bed directly on the ground may require that you put a protective layer between your garden soil and the ground. A chew-proof steel mesh would make a suitable deterrent to digging pests while still allowing worms to pass through into your garden. Those with root problems may want to use a protective to keep weeds or the roots of nearby plants out of the garden soil.
  • Protect your raised bed soil in the winter by purchasing or fashioning a cover, or sow a cover crop to keep soil from eroding. Cover crops may be tilled into the soil to provide added nutrients for the next growing season.
Gardening Raised Beds

Gardening Raised Beds

  • Use mulch and compost for added weed protection and water retention in your raised bed. They have a tendency to become dry quickly.
  • Be sure that the materials you are using to build your raised bed are sturdy or reinforced. The weight of the soil can cause damage to the frame over time.
  • Take advantage of the warm soil in your raised bed. Purchase a cold frame to start your planting early and extend it into the cooler months.