Make a Hypertufa Trough

Show off your favorite container plants in a homemade hypertufa trough.

Text by Helen Yoest; photos by Virginia Weiler

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    Modeled after ancient stone troughs used to hold water and feed for livestock, these troughs are made from hypertufa, an artificial stone product. Easy to make, these cool containers work in any style garden. Beth Jimenez and Amelia Lane, owners of Lasting Impressions in Raleigh, show you how to make inexpensive hypertufa troughs. Once you learn the secret to making these containers, you may not want to stop. A grouping of containers of various sizes makes a striking garden collection.

Design Ideas

    Apply basic garden design principles when creating hypertufa trough gardens. Use odd numbers of containers with varying heights and textures to add depth. This example uses a hosta, conifer, and sedum. The round rock adds the perfect accent.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

    You may have many of these supplies on hand. The remainder can be found at a building supply store to make a trough that measures 16x16 inches.
    Tape measure or ruler
    Serrated knife
    Sheet of 2-inch-thick foam insulation boards
    Eight 3-1/4-inch nails
    Rubber or latex gloves
    Quikrete Portland cement
    Peat moss
    Reinforced concrete fibers
    Gallon container
    1/2-inch dowel
    3/8-inch-thick plywood board (2x2 feet)
    Spray bottle
    Sheet of plastic or trash bag
    Wire brush or screwdriver (optional)

Step 2: Prepare the Mold

    Using the serrated knife, cut insulation into two 16x6-inch pieces and two 18x6-inch pieces. Assemble these four sections into a square or rectangle, depending on how you join the ends. Insert two nails through the insulation material -- one near the top and one near the bottom -- of each intersection.

    Test Garden Tip: For a rectangle, assemble as shown with the 16-inch section outside the 18-inch section. For a square, assemble with the 16-inch section inside the 18-inch section.

Step 3: Secure the Mold

    Wrap tape two times around the mold, once near the top and once near the bottom, for added reinforcement.

    Test Garden Tip: Almost any type of tape will work: duct tape, masking tape, or painter's tape.

Step 4: Mark a Thickness Line

    Mark a line at least 2 inches from the bottom as a guide to the depth of the hypertufa; this will mark the thickness of the bottom of your trough. Note: If you create a larger container, you'll want a deeper layer of hypertufa to give your trough more support.

Step 5: Mix the Dry Materials

    Put on your gloves and measure 2 gallons cement, 2 gallons perlite, and 4 gallons peat moss. The amount will allow for some left over material to make trough feet. Mix the dry ingredients in your wheelbarrow with the hoe.

    Test Garden Tip: Add 1/3 cup of reinforced concrete fibers to give your hypertufa trough more strength. Find them at building supply stores.

Step 6: Add Water

    Slowly add warm water to the wheelbarrow. Start with about 3 gallons and mix it well with the dry materials. You should end up with a consistency like cookie dough or a graham cracker crust. It should be wet enough to adhere so it doesn't crumble, but not too wet to ooze water. It should be wet enough to hold together when compressed, but not oozing water.

Step 7: Form the Trough

    Set the mold on the plywood board. Begin packing the bottom with the hypertufa mixture, using your previously marked line as a stopping point. Working a small area at a time, use your hands to firmly press the mixture into the bottom corners and up the sides, making sure to mash one section into another for seamless adhesion for a strong trough. Continue up the sides until the sides are covered by a 2-inch-thick layer. Spray water as needed to keep the mixture moist while you are working.

    Test Garden Tip: The plywood board serves as the bottom of the mold and makes transporting the trough easier.

Step 8: Add Drainage Holes

    To provide proper drainage, use a dowel to poke holes in the bottom of the trough. Insert the dowel through the hypertufa until it meets the plywood base. Repeat to make six evenly spaced holes. Leave the trough to dry in protected spot.

Step 9: Remove the Mold

    Your trough should dry in about 48 hours. After it's dried and hardened, carefully remove the tape and nails and pull the sides of the mold away from the trough.

    The mold can be used as is. Or if you prefer a textured, aged look for your trough, gently score the exterior with a wire brush or screwdriver.

Step 10: Cure the Trough

    Store the trough in a shady area to cure for 30-60 days. The hypertufa trough gets stronger every day. Your container can be left out in freezing temperatures as long as it is off the ground.

    Test Garden Tip: Spraying with water often decreases the duration of this process to about 30 days.

Step 11 (Optional): Make Pot Feet

    Use any leftover mixture to create feet for your troughs. These feet will keep your trough off the ground.

    Test Garden Tip: Or use extra hypertufa mix to create garden sculptures, such as toadstools.

Step 12: Plant It Up

    Place your hypertufa trough on porch steps, in a garden bed or border, or on the patio and fill with a potting mix it. It will work anywhere you choose.

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