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Gardening & More: Make a hypertufa planter

READY TO WORK — Anne Brierley of Steps and Stones explains how to make hypertufa pots and planters. Though this a messy project, it is easy and fun to do. The Portland cement comes only in large bags, so plan to do this with a group.
SPRINGVILLE — Hypertufa is a concrete-like material that you can use to make planters in any size or shape you want. Unlike clay containers, you can leave hypertufa pots out, all winter.

I recently talked to Anne Brierley of Buffalo, who welcomed me into her basement studio and showed me the basics of making hypertufa. She has a small business called “Steps and Stones,” for which she makes hypertufa pots and other garden decorations.

This art form goes back to the 1930s. Gardeners became enamored with tufa, a porous rock that is formed when water seeps through limestone, because Alpine plants grew well in tufa. Since tufa was scarce and expensive, a few gardeners worked to find an inexpensive and accessible alternative.

The product they came up with is called hypertufa. Hypertufa is lighter and more porous than concrete. It is also much more porous than plastic, so you will have to water hypertufa containers more often than you water other planters.

Here is the basic recipe for hypertufa:

2 parts sifted peat moss
3 parts perlite
3 parts Portland cement
Water

This is the same peat moss that you use in your garden. Brierley advised using a very coarse screen to sift out the big chunks, which you can later use in your garden.

Perlite is made up of white, light-weight granules that are often added to soil.

Portland cement is a fine, silky cement. No stones are added, when you make hypertufa.

This is a messy, dusty job, so Brierley recommended wearing old clothes that you don’t mind dirtying. She dons plastic gloves and a dust mask, when she works.

She measures the peat moss, perlite and Portland cement and pours them into a large, plastic tray lined with a sheet of plastic, such as a garbage bag. Using her gloved hands, she mixes the conglomeration into powder.

Brierley then adds water, little by little, mixing carefully. The aim is to get the mixture to the consistency of cottage cheese. She occasionally lifts the edge of the plastic sheet to expose the dry powder that hasn’t yet been mixed in.

You should have your mold already prepared. Anything can be used as a mold: a plastic bowl, cardboard box, basket, funnel or even a glass shade for a ceiling light.

Spray the mold with a silicone lubricant or cooking spray. Line the mold with plastic sheets. The plastic will help release the hypertufa pot from the mold and give the finished pot some texture. You can also add texture by placing leaves into your mold, before adding the hypertufa.

Pack the hypertufa mixture into the bottom of your mold, pressing firmly, and then build up the sides. The bottom and walls of a hypertufa pot must be an inch or more thick, or they will fall apart. “You can’t have skimpy hypertufa,” Brierley said. “You have to make it nice and chunky and thick.”

Brierley uses her thumb to measure, noting that thicknesses between the tip of her thumb to the first knuckle are about right.

Add a drainage hole to your planter, while the piece is still wet.

Let the piece dry for about a week. It should slip right out of the mold and the plastic should come off, easily. If the drainage hole has filled in, use a screwdriver or another pointy tool to reopen it.

You can paint your piece with concrete stain or patio paint. Brierley dilutes the colors so they are not too harsh.

While Brierley works in her basement, making hypertufa is such a messy project that she suggested doing it outside. None of the ingredients will harm your yard, so you can just hose down the area, when you are finished.

You can also plan to do this project with a group. The Portland cement comes in only large bags. Sometimes, you can find the smaller 48-pound bags, but you usually have to buy the product in 96-pound bags.

Brierley suggested reading “Creating and Planting Troughs” by Joyce Fingerut and Rex Murfitt, for more information about making hypertufa. You can also see a video of Brierley’s making hypertufa at www.Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com.

Brierley recommended giving hypertufa a try. “It’s fun, it’s creative and you get something back from it,” she said. “You have something in your garden that you will look at and you say, ‘I made that stone pot!’”

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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