Thanks a lot, Martha!


There were a few moments early in the process yesterday when I thought “Why?” A friend had finally convinced me to spend an
afternoon making hypertufa
, which, as most of you probably know, are DIY planting vessels made
from a mix of Portland cement, perlite, and peat moss (all items I never have
on hand, so had to buy). 

This garden craft had never tempted me before; I had always
found plenty of containers I liked pre-made, and I just didn’t see the point of hypertufa. It results in an interesting rustic-looking object, but you
have to want that look. And although the containers are a bit lighter than real
stone, they still seem just as heavy as most ceramics.  They’re not really an answer to the
problem of moving heavy pots around.

So it was with low expectations—just to please a friend—that
I went into this. I have to say that it was fun. The mixture comes together
easily, and adapts itself really well to the molds. As an interesting
alternative to containers, I had seen hypertufa spheres on Frances/Fairegarden’s blog, and decided to try some of these.  I had been unable to find the smooth
children’s balls Frances advises, so I cut open some soccer balls that were
handy and filled them with the mixture, first pressing some fern and other
leaves into the sides of the balls. They are drying now, along with a
traditional rectangular container.

It was not hard, not really that messy—most descriptions
make it sound much worse than it actually is—and I think I want to make more. Any
other hypertufa dabblers out there? (I know Susan is an expert in it.)

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    I’ve seen these projects before and I’ve thought about giving it a try someday…to much gardening to do…
    I was wondering; do you know if this mix can be made to permanently adhere to something? I’m using old large tires for some raised beds and I don’t have the strength (nor time it would take to turn them inside out as many do. I would like to cover up the tire treads that show and wondered if this tufa stuff would work. What do you think??

  2. Daisey, I am clueless–though I don’t see why not. You are advised to spray nonstick spray on your molds to stop the hypertufa from sticking–so it seems that adhering to the mold would be its natural inclination.

  3. Have led several large gardening groups in making hypertufa planters, birdbaths, toadstools, and spheres.
    The hardest part is getting the bag of Portland cement home without putting out your back! I like to make them in the fall as the gardening season is winding down. That way the planters can “season” all winter. Planting in a new hypertufa container will kill the plants.
    Daisey-I don’t think it would work but have never tried to leave the stuff on whatever “mold” I put it over or into.

  4. My mom had a friend who made a small pond for her out of tufa, waterproofing the inside somehow, though it still leaked a bit. Reading that comment about the tires reminded me of Sam Mockbee’s book, “Rural Studio” which had a picture of an outdoor chapel with stuccoed tires and a stream directed down its length. The pattern of the staggered, stacked tires was beautiful.

  5. Thanks for the linkage, Elizabeth! Glad to hear you had fun making them, and the impressions in a soccer ball would make for a very interesting surface. I think one is only limited by their imaginations with this craft. I agree about the downside of the weight of the bag of Portland Cement, and be sure and never use mortar mix instead, it will fall apart. It sticks to stuff like glue for me since I use the bonding agent as the liquid for extra strength and have to use plastic wrap as a liner to help remove the project from the mold. The childrens balls peel away easily though. Looking forward very much to Buffa10!

  6. I love hypertufa. I have enough pots, but it is nice when a gardener admires your pot and you can give them one. Then you have an excuse to make more! I have been wanting to do the balls.

  7. Our Master Gardener group hasn’t delved into hypertufa yet, but we have made concrete leaves for our tour fundraiser. We use rhubarb, hosta, burdock and castor bean leaves for stepping stone and birdbaths.

  8. The answer to heavy pots is the Potlifter. It’s a lot easier than using a dolly to move pots. Dollies don’t do stairs for one thing.

    The balls sound interesting. Now, I’m tempted.

  9. Have this on my list of “things to do for the garden when I have time”. Given the money I’ve been doling out to Green Acres for pots, though, maybe it needs to go on this weekend’s get-it-done list. Gotta do something while I wait for the tomatoes to ripen …

  10. I took a class last spring and made one and love it. I want to make more but time is an issue. Making them in the fall is a good idea, after the fall garden work is done. There was an issue of Martha S. Living this spring where she made some using baskets as the frame and they were amazingly beautiful. Now I doubt that “she” actually made them, but nonetheless they were lovely. You would have to sacrifice the basket, they said that you have to cut them off when the tufa is dry, so you would want to buy inexpensive baskets. The ball is a really cool idea too. Please post a picture when it’s done.

  11. Please tell me that there is an alternate to PEAT for this project. Can you use COIR? or something else?

    Give that peat, like oil, is a resource that only is created over long spans of time, a renewable substitute would be recommended.

    Any ideas, folks? Has anyone used something different for Hypertufa construction?

  12. I’ve made two containers and one sphere. The mold for the sphere was a glass replacement globe for a light fixture. You can get them at big box stores. Spray the interior with a vegetable spray, pack in your tufa mixture, wait 24 hours and smash the glass globe using a hammer.

  13. I just started making hypertufa this spring, also inspired by Martha. I had good luck using either plastic (I used dollar store drop cloths) or vegetable spray. It takes about a month at least, to season them so the plants are safe. I planted up a bunch with succulents, fabulous.

  14. The Tulsa Herb Society makes hyper containers for their annual sale and I participated in this year’s day-with-hands-in-mud.

    I’m not good at crafts but did a decent job with the ones we made. It was fun and not as messy as I had heard.

    Anyone have a preferred recipe that is better than one-third each cement, peat, perlite?

    Any one type of cement better than another?

    The Herbies used Vaseline to make the pots slip off the forms and it worked well.

  15. Take breaks throughout the day. It will help clear your mind and relieve pressure. Something as simple as going to the water cooler for a drink may do the trick.To help your workday go smoothly, try pacing your activities.

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