I have to say that hypertufa planter chairs are my all time favourite DIY upcycle project for the garden! What could be better than a ‘seat cushion’ made of succulents?
Look what we stumbled upon discarded at the side of the road! Hubs and I couldn’t wait to turn it into a hypertufa planter chair! Today we’re giving you the low-down on how you can make one too!
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.
Our Work Was Partly Done!
When we got our newest find home, Hubs punched out the rest of the seat.
We measured the circumference of the circle to determine the size of the bowls we would need. The bowls will act as a mold for the hypertufa.
We found a variety of metal bowls at Value Village for only $3!
The two larger ones were going to be just right for our mold.
Below, we’ve documented the steps 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 for 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. Nature will take its course and naturally leech the planter for you over the winter. It will be ready for plants at the start of the next season so you won’t loose out on growing time!
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To create a hypertufa planter, you will need:
- An upcycled chair
- Two stainless steels bowls to cast in. You’ll need one to fit the size of the seat and a smaller one to form a mold.
- Mixing pails (we used two, but you can probably get away with only one)
- Peat moss
- Portland cement
- Quikrete Liquid Colour in Charcoal. (Optional – use a colorant if you want to change the colour of your hypertufa). We wanted the bowl to blend in with the black plastic chair so we added it in.
- Plastic measuring cup or container to measure out the four ingredients (1 part of each)
- Paint stick to mix
- Rubber mallet
- Sheet of plastic
- Cooking spray (acts as a release agent)
- A weight, such as stones.
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 extra to spare. We were able to get peat moss from my MIL so only had to buy the portland cement and perlite.
Work out of Direct Sunlight
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.
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 with the small bowl facing down and the larger one facing up to contain the cooking oil.
Measure & Mix Ingredients
You’ll need to measure out one part of each ingredient.
Below you can see the bag of peat moss. Sift through to remove any large pieces of debris you don’t want in the final mix.
Note that we measured out one part water and put it into the first plastic mixing pail. But you can also add the water into the dry ingredients if you wish 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 to test out if one is better over the other.
In the second pail we mixed all the dry ingredients together thoroughly: one part each of portland cement, perlite and peat moss.
Once the dry ingredients were mixed, we added 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.
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.
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 in with the dry ingredients instead.
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 a 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, you’ll find 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, remove 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. It did crack on the edge but appeared to still be in one piece!
We put it right into the chair to test the fit and 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 to four weeks; the longer 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 on top of a bench in a black plastic bag. 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 plastic bag. This creates an ongoing water supply that will help keep your planter 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 must be leached out. Do this 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 lime from the hypertufa, soak it in a container of water. Change the water each day for 3 days, then it’s good to go. If your project is too big to soak, 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.
Drill for Drainage
Don’t forget to drill some drainage holes into the bottom of the hypertufa before planting. As you can see by the muddy film below, we of course forgot to drill first and had to backtrack after planting it! A 3/8″ bit works well.
You can further finesse the surface by sanding any rough edges smooth. But we left ours ‘rustic’ because the succulents will eventually hide the edges. And also because the crack on the edge from dropping it finally gave way ?.
Cover the drainage holes with a piece of landscape cloth to prevent dirt from washing through.
Use a soil mix specifically made for succulents. We used soil, but a dirt free substrate is also a good option.
Don’t overfill. Succulents should ideally sit above the rim of the pot so the leaves can’t rot in the soil.
They say that patience is a virtue, but until the succulents have had time to establish, it will never look as good as it does when it’s had time to grow and fill in. Here it is just-planted!
Compare that sparseness to this! What a difference a bit of time makes!
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. I try to leave about an inch of spacing between each one. If you’re the instant gratification type, you can pack them in like shown below, but it’s nice to give the plants an opportunity to get bigger on their own.
Working With Metal Chairs
Retro metal vanity chairs like the one shown below are great for this project too. I didn’t have a before picture of the actual chair we used so I snapped this one at an antique market.
It was identical except mine was bare metal. To get the effect of a seat cushion, the planter should nestle down into the seat so I removed the cushion and used a metal grinder to cut off the metal supports before I painted:
I spray painted the chair with white automotive paint and positioned it by our rock garden over a fern. The fern starts small in the spring and then engulfs the chair by summer. It provides another layer of interest in our little backyard oasis 🙂
A fern is the perfect specimen to plant underneath a hypertufa chair if you want to squeeze more greenery into your garden. It loves the shade that the chair provides and grows very happily there!
I’ve always liked the look of having the succulents mounded at relatively the same low height – it just looks more lush and cushion-like to me. Of course it doesn’t always stay that way; things do grow and reach for the light 🙂
For all our hyptertufa planters we tend to choose hardy succulents so they will last over our harsh winters. A properly cured and leeched hypertufa can withstand harsh winter temperatures without cracking. We’ve left hypertufa planters out during the winter for many years without fail, however we also sometimes store them in the garage until spring and bring them back out. Either way, the succulents seem to be happy.
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If you love embellishing your garden, we hope you’ll try making a hypertufa planter chair. It’s like the grownup version of playing in the sandbox! Pin these for later, then 10 outside the box planter ideas.
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