These instructions show how hypertufa garden containers can be made with molds or free-form using cement and natural fillers. Use the basic recipe and follow the tutorials to create an assortment of garden planters and art.
If you love creative containers, also see 40 Unique Container Gardening Ideas.
Getting Started with Hypertufa
Hypertufa pots were developed specifically for alpine plants but they make excellent containers for annuals as well.
Made from cement (and other ingredients), the finished product is naturally porous (allowing some slow drainage) and lends itself to all sorts of artistic ideas.
Related: 16 Creative Succulent Garden ideas
To get started, it’s very easy to use molds. These can be cardboard boxes or large plastic bowls, or smaller items like ice-cream or milk cartons.
I have listed a whole bunch of ideas for hypertufa molds here.
One excellent feature is, while the hypertufa mixture is curing (setting up or drying), there’s a window of opportunity where you can adjust the shape of the planter and create any additional drainage holes needed.
What is Hypertufa?
The word originates from hyper + tufa and describes a homemade tufa substitute.
Tufa is porous limestone formed from calcium carbonate. Years ago it was a popular material for making garden troughs and containers but is not practical for DIY gardeners.
The term hypertufa was coined when gardeners started making their own tufa substitute in the 1930s.
This helps understand the key components:
- Cement is the main ingredient in both concrete and hypertufa pots.
Cement is made of various calcined (heated) mixtures of clay and limestone.
- Portland cement is the most common type of cement used in concrete, mortar, stucco, and grout.
- Concrete is a stone-like material made by mixing cement and various aggregates (sand, pebbles, gravel, shells, slate, or shale) with water and allowing the mixture to harden.
- Hypertufa is made by combining various aggregates (sphagnum moss, sand, perlite, vermiculite) with Portland cement.
Planters made from hypertufa have a rough and rustic appearance. Concrete pots are smoother with a more uniform appearance.
In other words, you can make both concrete and hypertufa with cement as the main ingredient.
Can I use Quikrete for Hypertufa Planters?
No, do not use any fast-setting or instant concrete products. These already contain aggregates like sand and gravel and will not set and cure properly if more are added.
Use pure Portland cement and follow the recipe below.
What are the ingredients in hypertufa?
This is a basic recipe for making hypertufa pots, planters, and stepping stones.
- 1-part Portland Cement
- 1-part Sand or Perlite or Vermiculite (or a combination)
- 1-part Peat moss (see note) or Coconut coir (chopped up)
To measure your ingredients, use some sort of large jug or bucket and use equal parts of each. The water is added gradually, with lots of stirring until the desired consistency is reached. I have listed tutorials below with more instruction.
Peat (sphagnum peat moss) has been widely used in potting mixes for years. Because harvesting peat requires the destruction of irreplaceable carbon-sequestering ecosystems (bogs), the search for sustainable alternatives is underway. Coconut coir is often suggested but it too has limitations. Hence, the quest to garden in an eco-friendly manner continues.
Hypertufa Project Materials
What do I need to make hypertufa planters?
This is a messy, outdoor project. I strongly suggest gathering enough supplies (containers for molds) so that you can use up everything in one afternoon.
For most people this is probably a good one-time project and you don’t really want half a bag of cement hanging around your storage room for years to come.
- Portland cement . Do not use Quikrete or other products that already contain aggregates.
- Peat moss is the traditional material. Substitute coir (the outer husk of coconut) if you can’t find a sustainable option.
- Sand, Perlite, and/or Vermiculite
- Dust mask.
- Heavy-duty rubber gloves (cement is corrosive — do not touch!).
- Stir sticks (old pieces of pipe).
- Cooking spray (to lubricate containers).
- Large garbage bags or sheets of plastic (to wrap planters while curing).
- Wheelbarrow or large tub for mixing (something you don’t mind getting messy).
- Water bucket (and access to water).
- Small shovel or strong trowel.
- Work clothes & shoes you can mess up / work apron.
How Long Does it Take to Make Hypertufa?
Techniques and recipes vary quite a bit (depending on the desired look of the pots) but, overall, here’s what to expect. Most of the time is waiting time.
- Day 1
You will spend an afternoon creating your pots (mixing the hypertufa and shaping it into molds). Next there is a waiting period to allow the hypertufa to partially cure.
- Day 2 or 3 (depending on the instructions)
A day or two later, the pots are removed from the molds and you have the opportunity to make some adjustments or ‘texturize’ (rough up or smoothen surfaces) and add drainage holes.
- Day 14
Pots should be quite firm by now and ready for daily hosing with water or vinegar rinses to reduce the alkalinity of the cement.
- Day 21
By this time the pots should be complete cured (hardened). If you love the old-growth look, you can add a moss milkshake (moss plus yogurt or buttermilk blended together) to the exterior for a weathered look.
How Strong is Hypertufa? How Long Does it Last?
- If you mix your ingredients properly, once hypertufa has dried and cured, it will last indefinitely.
- If you dropped a hypertufa pot from ten feet up onto a hard surface, it could break into large chunks, depending on the composition of the materials.
- Cement and concrete are porous and are not recommended for holding water. There are skim coat products available for lining pots like this to make them watertight.
- You also do not want a hypertufa pot to fill with water and freeze because that could crack it open.
- Placing your pots on small supports (bricks, stones) off the ground can also help prevent water build up.
Where Can I Get Hypertufa Molds?
Part of the art of hypertufa is finding unique items to use as molds. I have seen latex molds for sale that could be used for smaller creations. It is much more affordable to repurpose supplies found at thrift shops and yard sales.
The easiest molds are plastic, strong enough to support the weight of the hypertufa, and shaped with the top lip wider than the base for easy release when the project is done. You can also use wood or woven baskets. Adding texture to the appearance is a whole other realm to explore as you get comfortable with it.
Always choose items that you won’t mind having to break open or destroy. Sometimes the project will release from the mold, other times the mold has to be broken or burned to set it free.
If you opt to use two containers to form a mold—an outer and inner container—be sure your inner container is small enough to allow at least a 2-inches gap for the hypertufa itself.
Also, don’t go so big with your project that you can’t physically lift it.
The mold may consist of a few things:
- Outer container for main shape and external texture.
- Smaller Inner container (optional) to form inside shape. You can also use plastic film / cling wrap to line the inside instead of a inner container and shape it manually.
- Plastic film / cling wrap or other non-stick agent like cooking spray, vegetable oil, or grease, lining container to enable cured hypertufa to release from mold.
- Pedestal foot form (optional) for more ornate creations.
Choose anything with the top wider than the base and avoid 90-degree sides that make it impossible for the project to slide out.
- Plastic bowls, buckets, planters, hanging baskets, window boxes, ice cream tubs, recycling bin, food storage containers, camping coolers, dish pans.
- Wood salad bowl, boxes, dresser drawers. Or build your own shape from scrap lumber.
- Wicker or Woven baskets.
Some projects use glass lamp covers (where you smash the glass when done). Personally, I’m always hesitant to create more garbage waste like this.
Metal is generally not recommended because, if the cured hypertufa will not release, it can be nearly impossible to remove the metal.
The easiest option is to use the ground as mold: dig a hole in the soil in the desired shape, line it with a large piece of plastic film, and pour your hypertufa in place. Just be sure you can lift it out when done.
DIY Projects with Hypertufa
Written Tutorials with Images
Kim has dedicated her entire website, The Hypertufa Gardener, to all things hypertufa.
Stephanie of Garden Therapy has two tutorials for both concrete and hypertufa planters.
Susan of Learning and Yearning has step-by-step instructions for a giant leaf hypertufa birdbath.
This video is a bit older (older video quality) but has a good walk through of the process.
Creative Sculpture Idea
This video shows how this garden art snail was created using a homemade wire form and hypertufa.
I hope this gives you some help to get started. You could make a good number of pots you could make a good number of pots!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
Hypertufa Mix for Planters
Supplies & Materials
- 1 part Portland cement Do NOT use Quickcrete or any fast setting mix
- 1 part Peat Moss or Coconut Coir chopped
- 1 part Sand or Perlite or Vermiculite any combination
- These instructions are general. Use a specific tutorial for the type of planter you want to make.
- Decide what you want to make an get appropriate molds or containers for shaping hypertufa.
- Set up work area. This is messy. Wear old clothes, protect all surfaces with plastic sheeting.
- In wheelbarrow or large bucket, thoroughly combine equal parts Portland cement, peat moss or coconut coir, and sand (or perlite or vermiculite).
- Gradually add water, mixing constantly, until completely combined and consistency of fudge.
- Add hypertufa mixture to molds and allow to cure for 1-2 days per tutorial you are following.
- Day 2 or 3: Remove from molds and add drainage holes and adjust surface as desired.
- Allow to cure for two weeks.
- Day 14: Rinse with vinegar to reduce alkalinity of cement.
- Day 21: Ready to use.