• Hypertufa workshop…fun!

    by  • August 7, 2011 • Garden, Garden art, How to, Projects, Something different, Summer • 5 Comments

     Last month, my friend, Cheryl and I, committed to giving a workshop to the garden club on a subject we were trying for the first time, “How to make Hypertufa Troughs“. Risky? Foolhardy? Fun! We were interested and I must say, excited to see for ourselves how it would turn out.

    One finished trough, the largest one we made with a corugated box mold

    One finished trough, the largest one we made with a corrugated box mold

    Why make hypertufa troughs? For cost of the materials, Portland cement, perlite and peat, for us $37, you can make any size and shape plant container you want for your plants. These can show off small plants that would otherwise get lost if planted in a garden bed.

    Tufa is a very porous natural limestone rock. It was discovered over many years ago that alpine plants grew very well on it. Alpine plant  and Bonsai organizations caught on to the simulated tufa troughs quickly. Hypertufa is a substitute which you can make for yourself from a few easily available materials. You can use it to make simulated stone sinks, to cover recycled white glazed or metal sinks for planting in or to even make your own rocks.

    The demonstration

    Everyone gathers on the patio for the demo

    Everyone gathers on the patio for the demo

    Today was the day for the Garden Club demonstration. Who were we to do this? Rank amateurs! …Didn’t stop us from having a great time learning, but how would the club ladies like it??

    We premixed the three ingredients, Portland cement, peat moss and perlite before hand and were ready with the steps we’d show and with all assembled, started the demo.

    You mix in water until the mix holds together in a ball.

    You mix in water until the mix holds together in a ball.

    Shaping the sides,...two can work on this.

    Shaping the sides,...two can work on this.

    We showed how to mix the water in and how to insert the sticks for drainage holes and shape the sides up the side of the mold, in this case, a round tub.

    You try to make all the sides and bottom an even 1 1/2-2 inches thick.

    You try to make all the sides and bottom an even 1 1/2-2 inches thick.

    Fold up the dry cleaning bag and wrap up in a plastic trash bag to cure slowly

    Fold up the dry cleaning bag and wrap up in a plastic trash bag to cure slowly

    We showed how you line and then cover the mold with the dry cleaning bag. Then you put the whole thing in a plastic kitchen bag to dry slowly for a week.

    You can soak the pots to get rid of lime or not, ...some do, some don't.

    You can soak the pots to get rid of lime or not, ...some do, some don't.

    The troughs soak for three days to remove the lime from the cement,…bad for plants. I changed the water three times, dumping the limey water in the utility area where it couldn’t hurt plants.

    We unmolded the revised recipe,...it dried faster,...not so fragile and crumbly.

    We unmolded the revised recipe,...it dried faster,...not so fragile and crumbly.

    We unmolded the next batch. It hardened much sooner,..only two days. This recipe was 1 part each cement, peat and perlite. We used three scoops each for this small batch, meant to make one trough.

    Making a 'pinch pot' with the leftover mix

    Making a 'pinch pot' with the leftover mix

    With the leftover mix today, we tried a different technique. For this kind, you plop the mix into a zip lock bag, form a pocket with your fingers, shaping the small ‘pot’ up against the sides of the bag. Don’t forget the short stick for a drainage hole. Then you zip it up to dry slowly in a freeform shape. These are called ‘pinch-pots’! They can be planted and arranged in groups, planted with tiny succulents. I’ll post a photo when it comes out along with an update with more projects (the successful ones) .

    We show other mold possibilities and the demo is done

    We show other mold possibilities and the demo is done

    Cheryl and I finish the demo and by that time, to our surprise, the ladies had got up from their seats and gathered around, they were so curious! They seemed delighted by how much fun we were having. They even suggested we have a ‘Mud pie Day’, chip in on materials, and make their own on another day.  So we will.

    Cheryl's 'shoebox' trough took on a very freeform shape due to the thin wet cardboard

    Cheryl's 'shoebox' trough took on a very freeform shape due to the thin wet cardboard

    Next time, Cheryl and I’ll try using all kinds of shapes and kinds of molds, from popcorn bowls to zip lock bags I’d also like to push it a bit and try making a really large trough or container. Hypertufa garden globes made from kid’s plastic balls and pressing letters into the mix are two other projects I’d like to do.  Birdbaths, rock garden troughs, stepping stones…..

     Small plants for troughs
    Plants for hypertufa troughs are Sedum, Sempervivum, Thyme, Echeveria, Aeonium, Miniature bulbs, Mosses, any kind of small sized plant. Also, there are Dudleya, Saxifrage, Armeria, Dianthus, Campanula, Thyme, Phlox and native CA wildflowers like Five-spot and Baby Blue Eyes..

    Maybe our amateur experience will convince you to try this yourself to malke a batch of troughs. It’s loads of fun in groups!

    About

    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    5 Responses to Hypertufa workshop…fun!

    1. August 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm

      I’d wondered about the lime in the mix, so your description of the final soak took the worry away for me. One of the classic recipes for carnivorous plant potting medium is one part peat to one part perlite. Gosh, I didn’t know I was 67% of the way to making hypertufa! I’ve been eying the technique for a while now and I should take the leap. It looks like you could get results all the way from rustic to modern, depending on how you mold the stuff. I does look easy and fun–and I’m already 2/3 of the way to making the mix!

    2. August 12, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I wish I could join you on your mud pie day! I can see you’re going to have lots more fun trying out different things. I love the birdbath idea 🙂

    3. February 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      Your class looks like super fun, Sue! I want to teach folks here in Dallas how to make hypertufa. I agree your final mix is the best mix ratio for me as well. I have noticed differing results due to the humidity in the air. Having said that, I don’t let mine set up for more than one day or two at most. Have not had any trouble with lime harming the plants, but then I do spritz the concrete many times during the drying/curing process. This seems to harden the concrete faster. Looking forward to pics of your pinch pots – thanks for that cute idea! Best, Chris

      • February 29, 2012 at 10:03 pm

        Thanks, Chris,…good luck with your class. The bulbs and violas are popping up in my hypertufa pots now…I hope the lime doesn’t affect them!

        • March 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

          I hope not too. So far I’ve been lucky with most succulents, but sometimes ‘kittenpaw’ and a few echeveria (splendens) get a bit wonky. I keep them in full sun – might be the problem! Good luck with your work. I am so jealous of your wonderful home!

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