How to - Projects

Create your own classic planter

Laura Langston
Photography by
Tracy Cox

Make this classic planter from scratch; it's heavy on the charm and light on the wallet

During a garden visit a few years ago, I admired some alpine troughs. The rustic containers, which looked like stone, were actually hypertufa that anyone could make—as easy as playing in the mud, the gardener assured me.

Made from Portland cement (pure, not pre-mixed), peat moss and vermiculite, hypertufa is simple, cheap and high on charm, and can be fashioned into an array of sizes and shapes, from small, classic garden pots and shallow containers to alpine troughs and large, flaring bowls.

Water and weather resistant, hypertufa is less likely than ceramic or terracotta to crack or crumble during freezing.

The entire process—from making the form (which takes about an hour) until it’s ready to plant up—takes about three weeks; the majority of time is for curing.

If you’re making the trough in winter, you’ll need a well-ventilated area such as a basement or garage that can handle a little mess and a bit of barnyard smell as the pots cure. Hypertufa containers are attractive enough to give away (if you can part with them) and so easy to construct, you can let kids get in on the action.

Hypertufa ages well, taking on a slight weathered look through the years. If it cracks, simply patch with more hypertufa the next time you make a planter. 

You will need:

  • Wheelbarrow for mixing (or another large container)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Heavy plastic (garbage bags opened up are fine)
  • A mould (myriad possibilities, such as old pots, Styrofoam coolers and their lids; we used an old dishwashing basin)
  • Sheet of plywood or other flat surface for a temporary base
  • Dust mask (optional)
  • 17 L vermiculite
  • 17 L peat moss
  • 11 L Portland cement
  • 13 L water
  • Flat board (or wide scraper)
  • Several short lengths of wooden dowel or some sticks
  • Carpenter’s file
  • Wire brush

Top tufa plants
While you can plant up your hypertufa container with almost any plant, sun lovers will especially show off its character. Here are horticultural editor Anne Marie Van Nest's picks: 

Hardy cacti (Opuntia and Escobaria) Zones 2 to 5
Dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo cvs.) Zone 2
Stonecrop (Sedum spp.) Zones 2 to 5
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.) Zone 1
Thyme (Thymus cvs.) Zones 4 to 6

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