Hypertufa Stone Trough

Hypertufa stone trough – Ultimate ‘how to’ guide

Make your own hypertufa stone trough

Stone trough for £3!

Last week, I whittled together this impressive hypertufa stone-effect trough (right). It cost me just £3 to make one and this example is not for sale! After just one week, the my trough looks very much like real stone. I can’t wait until it is populated with lichen and moss.

I’m not a stonemason, but working with hypertufa is straight forward. It’s so easy to create breathtaking rustic garden features that will improve with age.

Hypertufa recipe without peat

Hypertufa is basically an anthropic rock, made of equal parts of cement, sharp-sand and compost or coconut fibre (coir). See fig 1. Cement isn’t environmentally friendly. To reduce my carbon footprint I tend to use left ever cement from other projects. On the bright side, I use a sustainable media called coir instead of peat. Coir is a natural fibre, extracted from the husk of coconut.

How to build a realistic stone trough

A real stone trough can be a very expensive item. Expect to pay anywhere between £150-£300,  even for a small one like this. To construct using hypertufa, costs about £3 per unit (or £10 set-up for a one-off). 5% of the cost of a real stone trough!

Please make sure you have the following items before your start your mix:

  • 1 large mixing bucket
  • 1 pair of rubber gloves
  • 1 garden trowel
  • 1 part sharp, gritty sand (or perlite if you want a lighter mix)
  • 1 part cement
  • 1 part coconut fibre (coir).
  • 1 good sized cardboard box (a great hypertufa mould!)
  • 1 slightly smaller cardboard box
  • Bricks for supporting box sides
  • A flexible butter knife for sculpting
  • Water
  • A frost free environment!

Constructing the trough

  1. Mix equal parts of sand, fresh cement, and coir/spent compost together, adding water until your mixture is of the consistency of porridge.
  2. Pour some of the mixture 2 inches deep into the bottom of the larger cardboard box and spread evenly. Press in a few small and well-placed tubes for drainage holes – pieces of old broom-handle are perfect for the job.
  3. Allow the hypertufa mixture to partially set (5 hours).
  4. Place the smaller box inside the larger box, on top and in the centre of the base mixture (fig 2). Ensure that there is an equal gap between the inner and outer boxes. At this point, it’s a good idea to remove the drainage plugs. They may prove difficult to extract later once the cement has set.
  5. Pour in the rest of the mixture, filling the gaps until you have achieved the desired height. Ensure that the mixture is reasonably level.
  6. At this point, the cardboard will start to bulge a little. Don’t worry, as this adds to the stone-like effect. You can prevent excessive bulging by supporting the sides and insides with bricks (fig 3).
  7. After 24 hours (36 in colder conditions), peel away the cardboard if it is still in place (fig 4). Don’t attempt to move your hypertufa trough as it will be quite fragile.
  8. Take a butter knife and gently smooth the edges down a little and sculpt your trough into the desired effect (fig 5). For extra realism, gently jab to create small linear grooves to add a chiselled effect.
  9. Allow to dry for a week. It is recommended that you leave your trough empty for a few months. Let the rain wash away the alkaline compounds in the cement, which otherwise may cause your plants to suffer.

Top tips

I found that using coconut fibre is good because not only is it inexpensive, it looks great and the small fibres add to the overall strength of the trough.

If you are making a very large hypertufa stone trough, then I’d recommend reinforcing it with chicken wire and/or steel rods to give it extra strength and flexibility.

Remember, make sure that you remove the drainage plugs early on in the process. I didn’t and I had to drill them out later! I really don’t know why I opted to use square plugs in this instance!

If you want to accelerate the ageing process, try painting your hypertufa trough with natural yogurt or rice water in to encourage lichen and moss growth.

Other Hypertufa projects

There are so many uses for hypertufa . I have used this building material to create millstones, name plaques, fake rocks and even hypertufa stepping stones!

If you are embarking on an amazing hypertufa project, let me know about it by submitting a comment! You may have an alternative mix for us to consider. New ideas and hypertufa recipes are always welcome.

For more information on the subject of hypertufa, visit thehypertufagardener.

James Middleton

An obsessive gardener since 1982. Day-time job - web designer and developer and University lecturer.

16 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, I’ve looked into it before, but most articles are VERY specific and put me off experimenting. Looking forward to getting messy this weekend. 🙂

  2. You’re welcome. I have my stone trough on the steps leading up to my house. I still pause for a few seconds every time I walk past mine – Looks so realistic. As you can see from the first image, I have filled it with Sempervivums and Sedums.

    Good luck with your hypertufa project!

  3. Could this be used to hold water? Like for a bird bath or a small sink?

  4. That’s a good question. I’d say no. The organic materials added (coir) will degrade over time, leaving you with a lovely porous stone-like effect. The water would simple leak out. May be you could add some kind of tanking paint or weather proofing?

  5. How big can you go? How much does it weigh? I am looking to build a large (6ft X 8ft) raised bed.

  6. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you Jill. You can go a big as you want. Just ensure, if you go beyond a about 500 mm in width, you’re going to need some kind of reinforcement. You can use thick metal wire for smaller troughs and perhaps steel rods for large. The troughs are pretty heavy. No far off the same weight as concrete.

  7. Hello James,
    It has been 3.5 years or so since you made this trough. I’m wondering if it is still holding up. Would you do anything differently?

  8. Hi Pat, Sorry for the delay. Still going very strong. In fact, it is looking better than ever! The older it gets, the more like stone it becomes. Cement will improve with age anyway, as the microscopic crystalline structures continue to knit together. They say that concrete is at it’s strongest after 100 years!

  9. I knew a fellow, several years ago, who made hypertufa using old tennis shoes. Since I lost touch with him, I never found out how that worked. Have you ever heard of that?

  10. I have never heard of that, but love the idea 😉

  11. I use my husband’s old work boots as planters. Of course they deteriorate rapidly and last only a couple or 3 years…then I confiscate another pair of old work boots. How would you recommend using these boots as a form for a project like your trough? I would not want to fill the interior of the boot with cement, but would like to make the old boots more durable as a planting medium but still preserve that rugged appearance.

  12. That sounds interesting! I suppose the key is going to be drainage: Make sure that you have holes in the bottom of each boot. Also, put a layer of broken pottery or stones at the bottom, with a layer of grit.

    There are plenty of plants such as sedums or Aizoaceae succulents that would thrive in such an environment. Let me know how you get on.

  13. I love your “stone” planter. Could you give me the approximate measurements (height, depth, width) of your planter? It is so beautiful and I love the way you have chiseled it to look like stone. Gorgeous! I want to make one similar to yours but I have to watch the weight since I will be handling this by myself. Thanks for your step by step guide.

  14. Hey, you are welcome 😉

    It’s about 500mm x 300mm and about 200mm high. Thickness is about 40 mm.

    I hope it goes well. If you are worried about stability or would like to build a larger trough, it might be worth using chicken wire.

  15. I have been trying to find approximate amounts of each ingredient to make a trough the size of yours. do you remember how much of each you used or is there another site that lists this? thanks for any help you might have

  16. Hi Julie. I tend to use 1/3 for each coir, sand and cement. Add water until the mix is on the consistency of porridge. Do this slowly as too much water will weaken the mix. Good luck!

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