I have to say that hypertufa ‘seat cushions’ are my all time favourite DIY upcycle project for the garden! You may recall the chair we upcycled for our back garden and turned into a planter, but the hypertufa planter in that project was store bought. When we stumbled upon a discarded chair at the side of the road last week, hubs and I couldn’t wait to try making our own hypertufa planter from scratch for the first time!
At first glance, we both thought the chair was cast iron, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a plastic imitation. Hubs and I loaded it into the car; luckily we grabbed it before anyone else did!
Since the middle of the seat was cracked, it was perfect for our purpose.
Once we got our newest find home hubs punched out the rest of the middle of the seat.
We measured the circumference of the circle to determine the size of the bowls we would need to act as a mold for the hypertufa:
We found a variety of metal bowls at value village.
The two larger ones were going to be just right for the mold.
Below, I’ve documented our first attempt ever at making hypertufa so you can learn from our trial and error! Making hypertufa is a fairly easy DIY, however it’s a long process to perfect it. It could take anywhere from four to six weeks due to the curing time needed and the time it takes to leech out the lime contained in the portland cement so it’s a safe container to house plants. Since we started ours on the July 1st weekend, it won’t be ready to plant until August – which is nearing the end of our growing season! If you make your hypertufa in the fall instead, you can let the weather work its magic and naturally leech the planter over the winter. It will be ready for plants at the start of the next season and you won’t loose out on growing time.
To create the hypertufa bowl, you will need:
- Mixing pails (we used two, but you can get away with only one)
- Peat moss
- Portland cement
- Plastic cup or container to measure all four ingredients (1 part of each)
- Paint stick to mix
- Rubber mallet
- Sheet of plastic
- Cooking spray (acts as a release agent)
- Colorant (optional – if you want to color your mix). We wanted the bowl to blend in with the chair so we added in a black liquid colorant.
We don’t mind storing bags of the three main ingredients (peat, cement and perlite) because we’ll likely make more hypertufa. However, because you’ll need only a bit of each item, if this is your first project, beg and borrow a few cups of each ingredient from family or friends who might have some extra to spare. We were able to get some peat moss from my MIL so only had to buy the portland cement and perlite.
Find a sheltered spot to work in – out of direct sunlight and wind – to keep your hypertufa from drying out too fast. We worked in the garage and laid down a sheet of plastic onto the floor in case we had any spills. Here you can see the bag of peat moss. We sifted through to remove any large pieces of debris we didn’t want in our final mix.
Don some gloves and spray the inside of the larger bowl and the outside of the smaller bowl with the cooking spray (make sure you get the rim too).
Set the bowls aside.
You’ll need to measure out one part of each ingredient. Note that we measured out one part water and put it into the first plastic mixing pail, but it probably makes more sense to add the water into the dry ingredients so you can control the consistency better! Next time we make hypertufa, we’ll mix all the dry ingredients first and add the water into the same pail.
In the second pail we mixed all the dry ingredients together thoroughly: one part each of portland cement, perlite and peat moss. If you didn’t previously sift through your peat moss, you might want to remove some of the larger chunks of debris now to make a smoother mix.
Once the dry ingredients were mixed, we poured them into the bucket of water and mixed thoroughly but as I said earlier you can add the water directly into the dry ingredients instead. That way, you can control the amount of water you add. Depending on moisture and humidity, you may have to add a little more or less water to get the right consistency.
We forgot to add our liquid colourant to the water before adding the dry ingredients so ended up adding it in after. If your colourant is dry to begin with, however, add it into the dry ingredients instead.
Our mixture was the consistency of dry cottage cheese. I’ve seen wetter, more pourable mixtures on other sites, but my preference was to leave it just hydrated enough to pack.
Pack the wet mixture into the bowl and distribute evenly. I tried to keep the thickness to about an inch.
Insert the second bowl on top and centre it. Continue to add mixture between the two bowls until the mixture is level at the top. Tap the sides with the rubber mallet to release air bubbles.
You’ll need to weight down the top bowl while it’s drying so it stays centred. We happened to have gravel, but you could add rocks, sand or anything heavy that will ensure it all stays put.
Lowes has a great video you can watch that will show you all the steps I’ve described above. They also have some great suggestions for adding texture to the planter that we’d love to try next time.
First Stage of Curing
How long a hypertufa project takes to dry will depend on the size and thickness of your project, the humidity and the temperature. It will probably take anywhere from 2 – 4 days for the first cure. Just like every project hubs and I try for the first time, it’s all about experimenting and learning from your mistakes to gain expertise.
We placed the whole thing into a plastic shopping bag, sealed it tight and left it to cure for 24 hours on a level surface. You could use a black garbage bag, or plastic wrap, but make sure the plastic is tightly sealed to retain moisture and help it dry slowly.
After 24 hours, removed the inner bowl, then wrapped it back up again in the plastic and set aside for another 24 hours.
On the second day, we conducted a fingernail test to see if we could scratch off any of the surface. If you can, seal it up and wait another 12 – 36 hours. If you can’t then release the outer mold carefully; it’s still really fragile!
Since the project is still damp, you might want to wear gloves when you handle it.
As you can see above, we had to tap around the outside of the bowl to help it release. It was stubborn though, so hubs resorted to running a straight blade around the inside of the rim to loosen it.
That did the trick, however we had it perched on top of an overturned bucket and it slipped and fell to the ground! In retrospect it would have been better to release it right on the ground so it didn’t have far to fall. Luckily it remained in one piece!
Here it is unmolded; we couldn’t wait to test the fit in the chair itself and we were happy with the results!
Once unmolded, you’ll be wrapping the hypertufa back up in plastic again but you’ll have a decision to make on how you want to cure it.
Second Stage of Curing
This stage lasts about three – four weeks; the longer and more slowly it can cure in a moist environment, the stronger it will be in the end. You can cure your project either in direct sunlight or in a shaded area; either one will work but a cooler environment will take longer to cure. If in a shaded area, open the bag every once in a while and mist the surface to keep it moist then reseal the bag.
If you can place the hypertufa where it will receive direct sunlight you won’t have to mist it periodically. Our back patio faces south, so we left it there on top of a bench. Because the bag is sealed, it creates a humid environment. The heat will cause a lot of moisture to be released from the cement, which condenses on the inside of the sealed black plastic bag. This creates a water supply that will help keep your object properly hydrated while it’s curing.
Just When You Think You’re Done!
After a month or so of curing, you’d think you’d be done, but you’re not! The portland cement contains lime that can be alkaline to plants so it should be leached out – either through a process of soaking it over the course of 3 days or by leaving it out in the elements to leach naturally before it’s planted (that’s where making your planter in the fall has its advantages).
To leach the hypertufa of lime, soak it in a container of water. Change the water each day for 3 days, then it will be safe for plants. If your project is too big, you can hose it down a few times a day for five days.
If you prefer to let nature take its course, leave the planter outside for one or two months.
Don’t forget to drill some drainage holes into the bottom of the hypertufa planter. We used a 3/8″ bit. You can further finesse it by sanding any rough edges smooth, but we left ours ‘rustic’ because the succulents will eventually hide the edges.
They say that patience is a virtue, but in the interest of time, and since our hypertufa planter won’t be completely cured until the end of the planting season, I’ll leave you with a reveal shot of our roadside chair find as it looks with the existing succulents from our back garden – through the magic of Photoshop:
Depending on the size of your container, when you plant your hypertufa you can probably get away with five to eight succulents as they will spread and grow in with time. I try to leave about an inch of spacing between each one. If you’re the instant gratification type, you can pack them in, but I like to give the plants an opportunity to get bigger and reproduce on their own.
Add a good base of soil into the bottom of the hypertufa before adding the succulents so the roots have something to grow into. The succulents should also sit above the rim of the pot so the leaves can’t rot in the soil.
I love it when succulents drape over the edge of the container and the arrangement has an assortment of different heights as shown here in the post I wrote on creative planter ideas for the garden:
However I’ve always liked the look of having them mounded at relatively the same low height – it just looks more lush and cushion-like to me……….
As compared to this arrangement with staggered heights which hides more of the chair detail:
For all our planters, the majority of succulents are hardy so they will last over our harsh winters. A properly cured and leeched hypertufa can withstand harsh winter temperatures without cracking. We’ve left our store bought hypertufa out during the winter for many years without fail, however we also sometimes store it in the garage until spring and bring it back out. Either way, the succulents seem to be happy.
If you love embellishing your garden, I hope you’ll try this project; please pin and share on Facebook!
For other inspiring gardening posts, check out the following:
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