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Pots with a Personal Touch: Hypertufa

Martha Stewart Living, March 2010


Years ago at a flower show, a group of rustic garden containers caught my eye. They were made from a stonelike material known as hypertufa, which mimics a type of rock.

As a crafts editor for Martha Stewart Living and a ceramicist, I was intrigued to learn that the planters were composed of just three accessible, inexpensive substances: perlite, Portland cement, and peat moss.

When I realized pots so impressive could be shaped using basic molds, they became even more appealing. It's not often that a process as rudimentary as making mud pies yields such a sophisticated result.

Faux Bois Planter Mold
Leaf-Embossed Tabletop Mold
More Container Garden Ideas

Hypertufa was developed in the 1930s to replicate the stone troughs that were popular among English gardeners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The lightweight stand-ins were not only easier to come by, but also easier to transport. Thanks to their porous nature, the pots were ideal for plants needing good drainage. Hypertufa containers are still practical in the garden and simple to create.

To make a pot, you'll need to fashion a mold from a pair of vessels -- the mixture is poured between them. I experimented with various objects, such as milk cartons and metal bowls, and also constructed wooden molds. Because the medium captures subtle textures, baskets and leaves can be rendered in "stone," while clean-lined molds offer a sleek, modern look.

After making many containers and a couple of tabletops, I found the process quite rewarding. It is not an exact science, which is part of the fun: Every pot has the potential to surprise.

Basic Hypertufa How-To

1. Choose mold: Make a mold from two nested vessels, so you can pour the mixture in the space between them. Both should have sides that are straight or taper out; the gap between them should be at least 3/4 inch for smaller vessels and 1 1/2 inches for larger ones.

2. Mix materials: Wearing gloves and a dust mask, mix equal parts white Portland cement (gray can be substituted for nontinted vessels), perlite, and peat moss in a large bin; stir in masonry stain if desired. Add water gradually to reach the desired consistency.

3. Fill mold: Coat vessels with mold-release spray. Pour mixture into the outer mold to a 1-inch depth for smaller vessels or a 2-inch depth for larger ones. Set interior mold inside, centering it (you can fill it with sand to steady it). Continue adding mixture between vessels. Tap exterior with a rubber mallet to minimize bubbles. Cover with plastic; let set.

4. Finish hypertufa: After removing mold, drill holes into the bottom of pot using a masonry bit, for drainage; smooth the top edge of pot with a planer file. Wrap it with plastic, and let cure for several weeks.

Flat-Weave Basket Hypertufa

Flat-weave baskets gave these large containers their checkered finish. A spray of New Zealand flax underplanted with oxalis provides a touch of drama.

Directions

Mix 8 quarts peat moss, 8 quarts perlite, and 8 quarts portland cement. Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese. Makes 1 basket (12 by 13 inches).

Set Time and Release

Let set for 36 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 12 hours, cut away basket.

Wicker Basket Hypertufa

Cast in wicker baskets, these pots feature a ribbed pattern that contrasts with the delicate violas inside.

Directions

Wrap exterior of basket with duct tape to help prevent leaks. Mix 8 quarts peat moss, 8 quarts perlite, and 8 quarts portland cement. Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese. Makes 3 to 4 baskets (3 1/2 by 14 inches).

Set Time and Release

Let set for 36 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 12 hours, cut away basket.

Milk-Carton Hypertufas

Milk cartons used as molds create cube-shaped hypertufa vessels, each sized for a single succulent. The tint variations are achieved by mixing in masonry stains.

Directions

Mix 3 quarts peat moss, 3 quarts perlite, and 3 quarts portland cement. Mix in 13 1/2 tablespoons masonry stain (1 1/2 tablespoons per quart). Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese. Makes 3 to 4 small boxes (4-inch cubes or 4 by 4 by 5 inches).

Set Time and Release

Let set for 24 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 24 hours, tear away carton.

Bowl Hypertufas

These rounded pots owe their smooth, elegant forms to a kitchen workhorse: the metal mixing bowl, in two sizes. Masonry stain added to the basic hypertufa formula imparts a cool blue hue. Mixed groupings of dwarf plants -- confiers, ground covers, and hostas -- fill the hemispheres.

Directions

For a 6-by-11-inch bowl, mix 2 quarts peat moss, 2 quarts perlite, and 2 quarts portland cement; for a 7-by-14-inch one, use 3 quarts of each. Mix in masonry stain (1 1/2 tablespoons per quart). Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese.

Set Time and Release

Let set for 36 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 3 days, turn bowl over, and tap bottom with a rubber mallet to remove hypertufa.

Get the How-To for the Faux Bois Hypertufa
Get the How-To for the Leaf Tabletop Hypertufa

Sources

Peat moss (#809383) and perlite (#809352), by Miracle-Gro, from Home Depot. Gray Portland cement and carpet tape (#50-605), by Roberts, from Home Depot. White Portland cement, available at masonry supply stores. Universal Smooth-on Mold Release (#66MR1), from the Compleat Sculptor, sculpt.com. Nasum basket (flat-weave), from Ikea. Mason stains, from eceramicsupply.com. Wicker baskets, from B&J Florist Supply, 212-564-6086. Texture mat, in wood-grain pattern (PA 02-4), from chineseclayart.com. 1/4-inch Plexiglas, by Stanley, from Home Depot. Surform Plane Type, regular cut blade (#185515), by Stanley, from Home Depot.

Comments (41)

  • James Middleton 11 Aug, 2014

    I love working with hypertufa and it's just amazing what you can do with it. Make sure, if you are using coir, that it is not full of large hair like fibres - best get hold of fine coir if possible. Otherwise you end up with hairy stone! However, the organic matter in the 'stone' will eventually disappear. Just a thought. Take a look at what I created in just a couple of hours: http://www.theallotmentgarden.co.uk/the-pondering-gardener/make-hypertufa-stone-trough-1592/

  • mikakhan 12 Dec, 2013

    These look so lovely — those berries are gorgeous! I hope you continue to feel a little bit better each day. Thinking of you!
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  • DIYGal1 10 Nov, 2013

    Nice article, thanks for sharing.

    Check out this YouTube video to find
    out more about how
    to make hypertufa pots
    , planters and more.

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  • janlynn54 30 Mar, 2013

    I learned to make these with my MG group. We use peat moss instead of perlite. I have used styrofoam ice chest type containers ( i work in a hospital lab. many of our supplies have to be shipped refrigerated so I have access to these for free). I make my mix up about the consistancy of cookie dough and shape them either on the inside or outside of my mold like I'm useing modeling clay and use a dowell to make a drain [filtered word]. If I use the outside of my mold I support it on a strong board.

  • prettyshake 31 Aug, 2012

    What about holes in the bottom of the pot? What stops the soil just getting waterlogged if they are outside and have no way to drain? I've seen numerous recipes for hand-poured pots but no mention in any of drainage holes, which means that I could only use them inside. How have others addressed this issue?

  • frankiehoff 5 Oct, 2010

    These are great! I think they make great gifts with a variety of succulents in them. On my table top I placed small tiles in the hypertufa to make a mosaic design. I'm excited to see how it turns out.

  • whetstone 6 Jul, 2010

    I tried a few times to get the smooth finish as on the small planters using the milk cartons but no luck. Did the editors do something they are not sharing? crgrl30

  • gkdukes 27 Jun, 2010

    For the ones that are curious about outdoor usage with the hypertufa's, according to Wikipedia "Hypertufa is relatively light compared with terracotta or concrete and can withstand harsh winters, at least down to ?

  • calvin113 13 May, 2010

    Perlite or vermiculite can be used, or a mixture of the two. I have done it for years. Both can be found at most garden centers where they are quite a bit cheaper than buying at HomeDepot. For larger containers, I throw in a handful of fibermesh. This swells in the water and adds fiberglass to the mix to hold the pot together. Fibermesh can be purchased from most concrete companies.

  • debathome 18 Apr, 2010

    HomeDepot.ca doesn't list perlite, so can vermiculite work the same? it retains more water?? I'm hoping to build a smaller Inukshuk (4'ft) so I think this will make it affordable, but how LongLasting?? Are all these Hypertufa pots able to withstand a winter outside??
    Deb@ontario

  • Yosy 12 Apr, 2010

    What can you use as a mold-release spray? Can you use silicone lubricant or PAM as one comment below mentioned? Also what do you do with any left over mixture - say if you don't have any more containers; can you just throw it out? I am also under the impression that the vessels you use would only be for this project, can you reuse them for another Hypertufa? Thanks for the idea! Looks Awesome!

  • Yosy 12 Apr, 2010

    What can you use as a mold-release spray? Can you use silicone lubricant or PAM as one comment below mentioned? Also what do you do with any left over mixture - say if you don't have any more containers; can you just throw it out? I am also under the impression that the vessels you use would only be for this project, can you reuse them for another Hypertufa? Thanks for the idea! Looks Awesome!

  • Yosy 12 Apr, 2010

    What can you use as a mold-release spray? Can you use silicone lubricant or PAM as one comment below mentioned? Also what do you do with any left over mixture - say if you don't have any more containers; can you just throw it out? I am also under the impression that the vessels you use would only be for this project, can you reuse them for another Hypertufa? Thanks for the idea! Looks Awesome!

  • Rhondarae71 31 Mar, 2010

    Can I use vermiculite in lieu of perlite? If so-what different results can I expect? Thanks!

  • MayoMom 26 Mar, 2010

    Once you are done with the mold are they at all cleanable and reusable, or are they all garbage? It says let set for several weeks, what does that mean? Once these are done are they weather proof, rain, snow etc? Thanks

  • duziecat 16 Mar, 2010

    Do you not need to add the fibermesh to the recipe? Every one I have ever seen for these required that. How long will these last without it? Thanks!

  • vette07 8 Mar, 2010

    A great resource for low cost finds on many things is your local Goodwill Store. Happy shopping.

  • tweekgirl27 7 Mar, 2010

    richmondlady: hi! i would look for coupons (often 50%off) to your local craft store (joanns, michaels, hobby lobby). hobby lobby almost always has a 20% available online to print up and use in store. or yard sales maybe. good luck1

  • RichmondLady 6 Mar, 2010

    Where does one find inexpensive wicker baskets that are large enough to make a planter? I have searched dollar stores, Big Lots, Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyon etc. and have not had any luck find any large wicker products.

  • willakitty 21 Feb, 2010

    Two questions:
    1. I wanted to put a candle in the center of the hypertufa bowl, are the bowls flammable?
    2. After using the bowls, to make the hypertufa bowl, can you use the bowls for cooking?

  • Davos610 21 Feb, 2010

    I have a very contemporary polished chrome and glass table in my living room that needs an update. Would hypertufa work? The premise is the same as the table in the article but the glass I would be replacing is 20?

  • plantman56 18 Feb, 2010

    Ellen - Use PAM cooking spray as a release .
    Herr - Portland Cement comes in a 94 lb bag - Many companies make the portlandt. Be careful Quickrete also make concrete - which is different than portland ( it contains stones)
    The leaf table will turn out better if you use peat, portland and sand, and leave out the perlite- you will get better results with the leave imprints.

  • EllenJP 14 Feb, 2010

    where do you get mold-release spray? what is it?

  • Tiffany_Sun 11 Feb, 2010

    Ilovelucy2, the iron table bases we used for this story are Klubbo nesting tables, $70 for a set of 2, from Ikea. (ikea.com)

  • Tiffany_Sun 11 Feb, 2010

    nynativeflower, the links to the fauxbois and the tabletop are located at the top of the article on page 1. good luck!

  • Ilovelucy2 11 Feb, 2010

    where can you find the iron table base the cement leaf slab is on?

  • nynativeflower 10 Feb, 2010

    Where are the instructions for the wooden forms and tabletop form?

  • herr 6 Feb, 2010

    Did you use "quikrete" portland cement? if not, what brand of cement did you use?