The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

Project: Hypertufa Trough


This year I have been attempting to make homemade gifts. I feel that with today’s onslaught of retail, the art of giving and truly celebrating has been lost. There are many “projects” on my mental list of things to try, and the outcome can make for a great gift. One of the projects I can now check off my list, is a hypertufa trough – though I had so much fun, I plan to make more!

I used this recipe to make the hypertufa mix:

1 part Portland cement
1 part perlite
2 parts peat moss

I had to buy a HUGE bag of Portland cement which was difficult as it is very heavy – so bring some muscle, but your local store may stock smaller bags. On the other hand, I have plenty on hand now whenever the hypertufa mood strikes.

I used an old yogurt container to measure my mix. i.e. one scoop cement, one scoop perlite, two scoops peat moss. Fortunately for me (and maybe you, too), it’s not an exact measurement, just a ratio. Too much math or measuring and I would not be inclined to try this project.

I added enough water to the mix to make a thick mud. I added the water slowly with my sprinkling can – too much water and you will need more mix. I compare it to making a good baking dough – it’s easier to add water/milk than more flour, etc. If you can grab a handful, make a snowball (retain shape), and squeeze out only a few drops of water – perfect!

I started out small (the mix will not keep once it is moist) but soon moved on to a bigger batch of mix. I ended up using my favorite garden tub from Gardner’s supply – cleaned up very easily. I also wore an old bandana over my nose and mouth when mixing the dry ingredients to prevent breathing in the dust. I also wore gloves. By the way, I would not recommend making this project at your kitchen table.

The mix will not stick to cardboard, plastic or Styrofoam. I used three sets of cardboard boxes that I collected over time – a smaller inside a larger, to make three troughs. I used small sections of sticks in the bottom of each to create drainage holes. I had some chicken wire leftover from wrapping my young trees last winter, so I cut it into small sections and used it as reinforcement. You could also add a handful of synthetic concrete reinforcing fibers. I think I may use those in my future hypertufa projects – the chicken wire was a little awkward to work with.

Once I had my molds packed firmly, I placed them inside plastic garbage bags in the shade to cure for the first 24 hours. You should then remove them from the molds and set them in a semi-shady spot to cure for another three weeks before planting.

Two of the troughs I gave to my mother for Mother’s Day along with some moola for buying plants. The best part of this gift was spending the day with my mom. We went to a fantastic local greenhouse known for carrying a large alpine and sedum plant selection and had much fun picking out plants for the troughs. Here are hers planted up.

I am going to plant the one trough I kept for myself with some mosses and miniature woodland plants for a focal spot in my new woodland edge border. The troughs should develop a nice patina over time. Because this project worked and was fun, I hope to experiment with more molds. Maybe try a couple of round planters by inverting a round pot or mounding up dirt. Also, I would like to try adding some leaf impressions or river stones while the mix is still wet – there are so many possibilities!


Author: Kathy Sturr

Cultivating art, growing soul, and creating plant-based food in the beautiful 1000 Islands, New York and Cedar Key, Old Florida.

5 thoughts on “Project: Hypertufa Trough

  1. Nice! HT is fun stuff, we've made quite a bit of it over the years, including a faux Japanese lantern made using various forms found at yard sales. Check them out here: also use a square plastic bowl as a mold, and really love that shape. Don't forget to keep the Portland cement dry, it will readily absorb moisture from the air and become unusable.

  2. Thanks for the recipe! I've been wanting to try this for sometime now. Looks like fun:)

  3. I love this! I have wanted to try making these for quite some time, but I was worried it would be difficult, thanks for the step by steps.

  4. Thanks for the instructions! This is a project on my to-do list, and now I know how to do it. it seems easy, and the containers look great!

  5. what an awesome project! you're my hero. i tend to throw myself full body into my projects, so dabbling in cement could be a tad scary. i think i'd be covered head to toe 🙂 but truly a wonderful idea and i definitely have to try it out. thanks for sharing!

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