Home & Garden

A play on planters: Create your own planters with hypertufa mixture

KENNEWICK -- Have bare spots in your landscaping? Want to learn how to grow veggies, install drip irrigation or plant containers?

Drop by the Washington State University Extension Master Gardener's Spring Plant Sale and Classes event April 25. It will be in the Demonstration Garden, 1620 S. Union St., Kennewick.

The plant sale runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (unless they sell out earlier).

These are either plants grown by the Master Gardeners for the sale or extras from their gardens. The selection includes perennials and annuals, bulbs, herbs, trees and shrubs and vegetables.

There also will be hypertufa planters for sale. Hypertufa is a mixture of Portland cement, perlite and peatmoss, moistened with water and molded into planters.

"You can mold it into other things too, like cattle troughs, but planters is what we use it for," said Master Gardener Judy Schorzman of Kennewick.

She and other Benton-Franklin Master Gardeners will be demonstrating how to work with hypertufa during the plant sale.

"We've been experimenting with it this year and have found that you can make your planters any size. You just have to use reinforcement in the walls and bottom if you're making large planters," Schorzman said.

She prefers to use hardware cloth -- not cloth at all but really a grid of metal wires -- in her planters.

"It's inexpensive and cuts easily to size with wire cutters," she said.

You can buy hardware cloth and the ingredients for hypertufa at nurseries, garden centers and hardware stores. To use it to reinforce a planter, first put a layer of hypertufa in the bottom, cut a piece of hardware cloth to fit and place it on top and add another layer of hypertufa. Set the inner mold in place, add more hardware cloth down the sides and tamp in enough hypertufa to fill.

The necessary tools are simple: A trowel, dishpan or wheelbarrow for mixing, a measuring cup, goggles, inexpensive dishwashing gloves, face mask and a jug of water. You'll also find a spray bottle handy to wet down places where the hypertufa seems to be drying too quickly.

Molds can be just about anything from cereal bowls -- great for small planters for hens and chicks -- to old ice chests, plastic waste baskets, even cardboard boxes. Line wood and metal molds with plastic first otherwise the hypertufa will stick and not release easily. The mix won't stick to cardboard, plastic, or Styrofoam molds.

Once the mold is full put the whole thing inside a plastic garbage sack and close it tightly. Hypertufa needs to cure slowly otherwise it can crack. After about three days you can open the bag and remove the planter from the mold.

At this stage the planter's outer surface can be textured with a wire brush to make it look more like stone. Put it back in the bag and let it cure for another two to three weeks. Check every few days and if the planter seems to be drying too fast spray it with more water.

Before planting, the containers need to go through a secondary curing to leach out the strong alkali in the Portland cement. Simply fill the planters with water and let them sit for three to four weeks. Refill with more water when necessary. Do this for at least three to four weeks.

"Plant them too soon and the alkali will kill the plants," Schorzman said.

The recipe for hypertufa isn't exact. You'll want roughly two parts Portland cement, three parts sifted peat and three parts perlite. The amount of water will depend on how dry the peatmoss is. What you're after is a mixture that's about the consistency of cottage cheese.

Hypertufa planters are a great way to bring the look of stone into your garden without the weight, or the expense.

Master Gardeners also will have a series of classes during the morning of the plant sale. Cost is $5 per class, pay at the gate.

The classes offered are:

-- 9:30 a.m.: Drip Irrigation or Vegetable Gardening

-- 10:30 a.m.: Rose Pruning or Square Foot Gardening

-- 11:30 a.m.: Divide Perennials & Container Gardening or Vegetable Gardening

First-hand help

An intensive class on hypertufa is at 10 a.m. May 16 at the Master Gardener's Demonstration Garden, 1620 S. Union St., Kennewick. Cost is $15.

Preregistration is required and space is limited. For more information or to register, call 735-3551.

* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com.