Instructions on how to make a lighter weight English style trough.
Making Hypertufa troughs are perfect for the beginner. Molds can be made using cardboard boxes, corrugated plastic, foam board, wood or even foam insulation. The most common shape for an English style trough is a rectangular or square shape, but they can be any shape you want. I will be highlighting some other shapes for containers in the future.
This type of trough is perfect for plants that require good drainage such as succulents or alpines. I just have miniature plants in mine, but I've seen some gorgeous miniature gardens that depict a specific scene complete with miniature furniture and figurines. The plants you want to grow will determine what soil mix you will use or even the overall size and depth of your trough. This one is about 8" deep which allows me to grow a miniature conifer, but most ground covers are shallow rooted and don't require this much soil depth.
Basic Materials Needed:
- Flat work surface
- Hypertufa Mix of Choice
- Mold of your choice
- Plastic Drop Cloth or Trash Bags
- Rubber Gloves
- Stiff Bristled Brush
- Dust Mask
- Shallow container for mixing Hypertufa
- 2-3 short pieces of dowel (Optional)
I used recipe #1 for this trough, which is one part Portland cement to one part sterile potting mix, but recipe #2 would be good also (See the Hypertufa Recipe Page for complete instructions on mixing Hypertufa).
When mixing the Hypertufa for this project, you want the mix to be the consistency of cookie dough, so that when you hold it in your hand and squeeze it, very little water comes out of the mix but yet it stays together. The overall size of this trough is roughly 1.5 gallons with dimensions of 12" x 6" x 8", but it can be any size. If you decide to make a larger trough, be warned that it will be heavier and you should add reinforced fibers to the mix or a reinforcing mesh to help with the strength of the trough. If you live in a very cold climate, you may want to do that anyway, but I didn't for this project.
I don't have an actual picture of the mold, but I made a drawing so you could see the shape we used. Yours can be a simple rectangle or you can give it flat corners like we did. Sit the mold on a flat surface that is covered with plastic. There is no bottom to this particular mold, that is why it's important to put plastic on your work surface; you don't want it to stick to the table. Since the corrugated plastic is fairly thin, we used some bricks on each side to keep the sides from bowing out as we were filling the mold.
Once you have mixed your Hypertufa, start pressing the mix into the bottom of your mold so that it is at least 1" to 1-1/2" thick. Press firmly so that you have a solid base to work with.
Once the base is done you can start adding mix to make the walls. The walls should also be about an 1" thick. Again, press firmly so that you end up with a smooth solid wall when the mold is removed. At this point, you can either make the walls even with the top of your mold, or you can make one side taller than another or even make it look as if the edges were aged and jagged.
Your trough needs drainage holes, so you can either take some pieces of dowel, cover them with plastic and stick them in the bottom of the trough to make the holes (three is a good number for this style trough) or you can drill the holes out using a masonry drill bit when the trough has hardened.
Cover the trough with a plastic bag and leave it in place for 2-3 days. The area it is in should be cool (between 50-80 degrees) and protected from the rain. After 2-3 days, the trough can be moved to a more desirable location where it needs to cure for at least 21 days. Once it has been cured, the trough must be rinsed thoroughly to remove the lime that will be leached from the Portland cement. Leaving it out in the elements for a couple of weeks will accomplish this naturally, or you can mix a solution of water and white vinegar and rinse the trough. Rinse again with plain water and it's ready to plant.
Planting Your Trough
When planting your trough, you want to use a bagged garden soil rather than a potting soil. Remember, these plants will be in this trough for a long time, so you want to simulate the conditions as if they were in the ground, but yet provide good drainage. You don't want to use soil from your gardens as it will not be sterile and it tends to pack down more so than the commercial bagged soils. If you have trouble finding a commercial bagged soil, you can make your own. I like to use one part peat moss, one part compost, one part sand and/or one part perlite or vermiculite. The mix you use will largely depend on the type of plants you are using, but this is a good all purpose mix. I also throw in a handful of slow release fertilizer as well as some worm castings, but the worm castings are not necessary.
When it comes time to plant, the options are endless. Choose plants that are hardy to your zone or even a zone or two colder for best results. For this planter, I chose something taller for the focal point, a creeping plant that will spill out over the sides and some ground cover plants to fill in the bare spots on the surface. Rocks were used as an accent and are a nice finishing touch, as is shredded wood mulch or even sea shells.
Aging Your Trough
Your trough will start to look aged on its own over a period of time. The peat moss in the Hypertufa will decay and make the trough look old and weathered. If your trough is sitting in a sunny area, it may grow lichens over time. If it's in a shady location, it will start to grow moss, if the conditions are right. Check out my moss recipes here. If you do not want moss or lichens to grow on your trough, you can seal your trough on the outside with a penetrating concrete sealer. Or you can wash the outside with a bleach solution (one part bleach, ten parts water) whenever you see them growing.
Be creative and enjoy your planter!