Hypertufa Party at Shirley's ... long w/pix and tips

roselee z8b S.W. TexasOctober 26, 2011

Patty "Castrogardener" and I had long mulled over getting together and trying our hand at making hypertufa plant containers. Shirley "OakRockDeer" must have picked up our thoughts because she invited us to a 'Tufa Party' which we attended today.

Patty and I were estatic because we'd never seen the process where Shirley and hubby Neil had done it a few times before so they had some great tips and knew some of the pit falls and how to overcome them.

They have their own formula which starts out with Portland Cement. Neil had some bags left over from recent building projects ...

Added to the cement were sand, Perlite and peat moss which Shirley had sifted through a hardware cloth sieve to get all the lumps out. That was stirred and then water added in small increments. It helps to have an 'armed' man to do the mixing! Thank you Neil ...

Here we are looking all happy and hopeful that our projects would turn out well. We each made about three pots ....

Patty watches as Shirley and Neil show us how to squeeze the lumps of tufa mixture into patties which helps in getting the air out making a smoother tighter surface for the finished pot ...

The tufa mixture needs to be quite stiff; not soupy at all. The texture has to be such as to enable a lump of it to be worked with your hands ...

The mixture is tightly pressed into the pot which you've sprayed with an oil cooking spray so the tufa will come loose from the mold ...

We placed plastic at the bottom of the pot, pressed a pattie onto it, and start putting patties around the sides ...

After you get a little ways up the sides of the pot the tufa will start sliding into the bottom so another smaller pot is placed into the middle to hold the sides in place ...

It's hard to tell, but a smaller square black plastic pot has been placed inside the square pot being used as a mold. It might have to be cut out ...

The inside pot needs to be weighted with sand, bricks, or in this case a heavy rock to hold it down. On this piece I experimented with putting pieces of broken clay pots around the sides and top. After it dries some of the tuffa mix will be wire brushed away to reveal the bits of pottery. We'll see in a few days how it turns out ...

Here Patty experiments with decorating her piece with fern fronds ...

Shirley and Patty working away. There is a certain amount of speed involved to get done before the mixture gets too stiff. However, a little water can be added and the mixture stirred in the wheel barrow to slow down the setting ...

Our pieces were wrapped in plastic bags and will be left to cure for about three days. After that time the tufa can be gently removed from the molds (we hope!) and since it is not completely hardened any rough edges can be worked off with a wire brush, or the sharp edge of a knife. At this point the pieces can be filled with water to keep the hypertufa moist as it completes the hardening process. The plants appreciate some vinagar added to the water to counteract the alkalinty of the cement. The pieces are then left in the shade for a couple of weeks to harden completely. After drying holes are drilled for drainage using a drill bit made for concrete and ceramics.

Here is one of Shirley's previously finished pots. Beautiful isn't it?

Shirley's pots looked a little smoother than some you see because she adds sand and a little less perlite and peat moss.

After the work we sat down to a delicious chicken salad prepared by Shirley and served on their lovely deck ...

Here's a partial view of their deck which has many gorgeous plants in pots. It is overshadowed by the spreading limbs of several live oak trees. To the right you can see the green house that Neil is building to house tender plants in winter ...

What a lovely day. The weather was perfect. Thank you Shirley and Neil!

I hope this will give you some ideas on how to proceed on a hypertufa pot making party of your own. We'll show you our results in a couple of weeks after our pots have thoroughly cured and dried.

This is just one way of doing it. If you've worked with tufa and have some tips, experiences and/or photos to share we'd love to hear and see them. No doubt there are other ways of doing it and different mixtures of cement, Perlite and peat moss. Shirley, Neil and Patty, if I've left anything out please fill in for me.

Happy hypertufa! :-)

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What fun it was to make mud pies, and toad houses over your foot.

This is an excuse to relive those childhood joys and have an original piece of art also.

I bought a plant in one of those pots that an independent nursery owner had made. It broke into three pieces within a few weeks. She probably did not use the right amount of some ingredient or maybe not let it cure correctly.

What ratio of the ingredients did you all use?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 9:08PM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

Ragna and Patty were a joy to work with, we did indeed have as much fun as it looks. Thanks for posting this Ragna.

The important thing is to have more portland cement than anything else in the mix so I add about half as much sand, peat, and perlite combined as cement. Portland cement will hold together really well when mixed with sand, it's just too heavy when made into planters. The only purpose of the peat and perlite is to lighten the mix so you can use as little of those as you want. Don't add too much water because it gets hard to work.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 9:45PM
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pjtexgirl(7b DFW)

I've been meaning to do this for 3 years now. Shirley's pot with the lines is gorgeous! I can't wait to see everyone's treasures when they are done.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 10:28PM
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The first statement in the directions should read:
Get a handsome strong armed man

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 10:49PM
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carrie751(z7/8 TX)

Yeah, soxxx, wonder what happened to all those mulch guys that used to be around on this forum????

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 9:41AM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

Those new pots need to go in the garage this afternoon. It's best if they stay above 50F. Sorry, I should have thought about the front coming in yesterday. I'm moving mine, be careful and don't bend them and they should be fine.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 10:45AM
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    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 11:42AM
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pjtexgirl(7b DFW)

I wondered about that (while I was painting a bench) yesterday. The bench is now drying in my computer room :)
Boss jim, that looks NOTHING like your picture from the plant swap. What HAPPENED????

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 2:45PM
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carrie751(z7/8 TX)

Oh, I remember these guys, but forget who they mulched for? Anyone willing to admit??????

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 3:59PM
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I did not know you were a twin.
The arms do look strong enough.
When can y'all show up to stir the cement?
I will be asking several other TX gardeners

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 4:58PM
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plantmaven(8b/9a TX)

I think someone was sending them to Jolana's.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 5:53PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Shirley, thanks for the heads up on the best curing temperature for the hypertufa pots. I was surprised at how warm they were when they were removed from the car a couple of hours after I got home. They were almost hot which I guess was due to the action of the curing that had begun.

Good one PJ. Carrie, those guys didn't work for me. They were Jolana's mulch guys I think, but they do look strong, and determined--about what who knows.

My mulch guy is a *slightly* ;-) older version of the one pushing the wheelbarrow who worked for Carol Ann.

So now we know we have a gen-u-wine 'mulch guy', a 'hypertufa guy' and a 'Santa Jim guy' ... :-)

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 7:44PM
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pjtexgirl(7b DFW)

So now we know we have a gen-u-wine 'mulch guy', a 'hypertufa guy' and a 'Santa Jim guy' ... :-)

It's "happening" around here! LOL.

Oh I remember Carolann's mulch guy. You lucky dog, you. :)

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 8:31AM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

I'm going to wait until Sunday afternoon to unmold my pieces. By then we'll be sure they are set.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 11:05PM
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I wonder if you can use that lightweight cement I use for making my Christmas Village Accessories? There is only one lumber company that sells it here in San Antonio. Barbra

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 1:55PM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

Can you get the name of it for us? I'd be interested in knowing more details.

Just finished unmolding and still have a little finishing work to do. Then I'll set them aside in the garage to cure for a few weeks.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 2:56PM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

Here's the rest of the process

These were covered in the garage

This small one is easy, just peel the mold off


Now for the next one

Fold and pull the inside mold

Now for the outside

Turn it upside down and thump

The plastic in the bottom helps

This one needed extra help to loosen


Smooth the edges with a rasp

If the bottom is too thick, chip some out

If there are pits in the top, we mix some of the dust with water and fill smooth.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 4:23PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Barbra, I never heard of light weight cement in a sack, but looked it up on line and sure enough there is! Sounds very convenient, although the price might be a little higher than DIY hypertufa. One source had it listed at $16.00 for a two cubic ft. sack. It's certainly worth looking into! Thanks for telling us about it.

Shirley, I just came in from taking my pots out of the molds also. I did the first one and then Bob helped me a little with the other two.

The hypertufa around the top rim had to be chipped away a bit from the inside and outside edge. I also put a screw driver very gently between the plastic pot mold and the tufa to loosen it. Then turned it over and bounced it gentle a few times, did a little more loosing, etc. and after doing that several times the pot came out. The ones in the middle came out with no problems.

I then worked on smoothing the edges and the top with a very rough file and finished up with a steel brush.

On the pot which I had incorporated broken pieces of clay pots I did a lot of steel brushing on the top to show the pottery chips, and on the sides to rough it up a bit so it really looks antique. Antique 'what' I don't know ... lol, but it looks very old :-)

Since we don'e have a ceramic drill drill bit at the moment I went ahead and drilled a drain hole while the tufa was sill not completely hard. I put some wadded up plastic in the hole so the pot would hold vinagar water while it cures the rest of the way.

Whew! All that sure worked off some Sunday dinner!

I think they look really nice. I'll take and post some pictures when I get my breath.

Eager to see pictures of yours Shirley and Patty.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 4:43PM
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Roselee, I paid $27 for 100 lbs, 2 years ago. I bought it at Allen and Allen lumber company.
When it is hard to get out, use and air gun to shoot air into the outside edge, it should give. I have to use the cooking oil spray everytime I pour. Barbra

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 5:28PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Shirley, we were posting at the same time and I hadn't seen your pictures when I posted the above after your instructive post. Good tip about mixing the dust to smooth in any holes. I didn't know that.

Barbra, I appreciate the additional information on light weight cement.

Okay, here's the pictures of my pots. Ta daa!

I happened to have a nicely formed oval shape plastic pot for a mold ...

Shirley lent me the same style square plastic pot she used before to make this. Just for fun I plopped a plant in it ...

Last, the pot with the clay shards. I used a hanging pot for a mold ...

Incidentally, I put a damp hankerchief over my nose and mouth while using the steel brush. You don't want to breath cement. Also wore rubber gloves. The alkalinity of the cement will really dry your hands when handling the not completely cured pots.

Now the pots will sit for a couple of weeks with vinagar water in them to finish curing.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 5:46PM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

I really like those, Ragna. They turned out quite well. They will look great when they get weathered too.

From what I read online the lightweight cement is premixed with perlite and fiberglass. We buy portland cement in open bags from Lowe's for a dollar a bag so we save a lot mixing ourselves. The premix probably comes out really nice, but since these are all outside pots I don't worry that much about it.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 6:01PM
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I think both of you did an excellent job, the pots are just beautiful. I work on a much smaller scale, its alot of fun to create something from dust. Your pots will be around, way after I am gone. I am taking my Christmas Village with me. Barbra

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 6:37PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Thanks Barbara!

Folks, I saw Barbra's Christmas Village last year and it is FANTASTIC! You have no idea how elaborate it is. Yes Barbara, take it with you when you 'go' ;-) but first take some pictures for us.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 6:50PM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

I'd love to see the pictures Barbra. If it has trees and plants then it could be considered garden related.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 7:50PM
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My husband said my Christmas Village has 2 zip codes. Last year I broke my hip and had surgery on 11-2-10. I was not out of the hospital until 11-20th, I started putting up the village the day after Thanksgiving. I was not able to stand very long, and had to use the metal clamp extenders for reaching. I was still able to get some of the village up. It is full of buildings and places that remind me of my childhood. Barbra

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 9:18PM
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