These instructions show how hypertufa garden containers can be made with molds or free-form using cement and natural fillers. I’ll give you the basics to get started plus some good resources for a variety of DIY tutorials.
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.
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.
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?
It’s helpful to know the difference between cement, concrete, and hypertufa.
- 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.
Pots made from hypertufa have a rough and rustic appearance. Concrete pots are smoother with a more uniform appearance.
In other words, you can make concrete and hypertufa with cement as the main ingredient.
Hypertufa Pots Project Materials
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 . Some tutorials recommend quick cement, most do not.
- Peat moss is the traditional material. Substitute coir (the outer husk of coconut) if you can’t find a sustainable option.
- 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?
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.
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 walkthrough 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. In one afternoon you could make a good number of pots!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛