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Lasting Impressions
by Helen Yoest - posted 03/22/19

Hypertufa troughs are earthy and natural containers that look great in gardens of every style. Today’s hypertufa troughs are modeled after ancient stone vessels that were used by farmers in England and the Orient to hold water and feed for livestock. As farmers replaced stone with more modern materials, the old stone feeders became popular as planters. As they became scarce, and pricey, people began to make their own. But a hypertufa trough is a worthy container in its own right, and should not be considered a poor substitute for the real thing. 

Beth Jimenez and Amelia Lane of Lasting Impressions in Raleigh, N.C., share their recipe for making a trough – and once you learn how easy they are to make, you’ll want to make groupings of containers. These will last many years and will always look good.

 

STEP 1 – Gather Materials

Sheet of 2-inch-thick foam insulation board cut into four pieces: two 16-by-6-inch pieces and two 18-by-6-inch pieces
Serrated knife
Eight 3¼-inch nails
Concrete reinforcing fibers
Duct tape  
Tape measure or ruler
Marker
QUIKRETE portland cement (No. 1124)
Perlite
Peat moss
1/2-inch dowel, approximately  6 inches long
Water
3⁄8-inch-thick plywood board (2 feet by 2 feet)
Wheelbarrow
Hoe
Gallon container
Spray bottle
Rubber or latex gloves  
Mask

 

STEP 2 – Construct the Mold
Assemble the four sections of insulation board into a square or rectangle, depending on how you join the ends. For a rectangle, assemble with the 16-inch section outside the 18-inch section. For a square, assemble with the 16-inch section inside the 18-inch section. Insert two nails through the insulation material -- one near the top and one near the bottom -- of each intersection.

Wrap the duct tape around the mold to cover the nails, once near the top and once near the bottom, for added reinforcement.  

Mark a line 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.  

 

STEP 3 – Mix the Formula
Wearing your mask and gloves, measure 2 gallons of cement, 2 gallons of perlite and 4 gallons of peat moss. This amount will leave enough material to make trough feet. Mix the dry ingredients in your wheelbarrow with the hoe.

Add 1⁄3 cup of reinforced fiber for stronger, long-lasting concrete. This fiber can be found at a building supply store or through Lasting Impressions (www.lastingimpressionsleaves.com). Slowly add 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 wet enough to ooze water.

 

STEP 4 – Form the Hypertufa 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 and a stronger trough. Continue up the sides until they are covered by a 2-inch-thick layer. Spray water as needed to keep the mixture moist while you are working.

 

STEP 5 – Adding Drainage Holes
To ensure proper drainage, use the 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 a protected area.

 

STEP 6 – Remove the Mold
Your trough should dry in about 24 hours. When it’s dry and firm, carefully remove the tape and nails and pull the sides of the mold away from the trough.     

The trough can be used as is, or – if you prefer a textured, aged look – gently rough up the exterior with a wire brush or screwdriver taking care to not poke holes in the sides as you work.

             

STEP 7 – Curing
Store the trough in a shady area to cure for 28 days. Your container can be left out in freezing temperatures as long as it is off the ground.

 

STEP 8 – Make Pot Feet
Use the remaining mixture to create “feet.” These feet will keep your trough off the ground. 

 

Place your hypertufa trough on your porch steps, in a garden bed or border, or on the patio and fill with potting mix. Plant your favorite conifers or sedums and enjoy for years to come.

 

This article appeared in a previous issue of State-by-State Gardening.
Photos courtesy of Helen Yoest.

 


Helen Yoest is a garden writer and owner of Gardening With Confidence. Follow her blog at gardeningwithconfidence.com/blog.