Tips for Troughs


Making your own cement trough is the perfect recipe for outdoor summer fun if you’re a gardener. Hypertufa cement containers can be made in all shapes and sizes, and when yours is completed, you can plant it with a variety of jewel-like succulent plants, readily available in the Pawling area.

What is hypertufa?

Hypertufa is a man-made rock composed of various aggregates bonded together using Portland cement. It’s a substitute for natural tufa, which is a slowly precipitated limestone rock. Hypertufa containers are porous and offer the ideal environment for the arid, fast draining soil that succulents and alpine plants like. They also have an unmistakable charm if you like anything made of stone or resembling stone!

The garden, open to the public, has a rocky landscape that is home to many large, plant-filled cement containers. In the workshop we used wooden molds that have been in use for years. There is a two-part workshop scheduled on October 20 and 21. To sign up, visit their website at

Oliver Nurseries, an outstanding garden center in Fairfield, CT, also gives workshops in making these containers. I used their recipe (below) when I first tried making containers at home. I used plastic cups and bowls as molds, sometimes fitting a smaller one inside a larger one. Grab a garden hose and a wheelbarrow and follow these instructions!

Hypertufa Trough Recipe


1-1/2 parts coarse perlite

3/4 parts sieved peat moss

1 part Portland cement, type 1, light

Handful fibermesh (available at masonry supply stores) – optional


Small shovel or hoe

Appropriate molds

Thin, large plastic bags

Gloves and a dust mask

Wire brushes and other shaping tools


Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, making sure there are no pockets of individual ingredients. Add water slowly until mixture reaches the consistency of thick oatmeal. Water should be added a little at a time and mixed between additions. If the mix becomes too wet, wait 15 minutes or so; the consistency may correct itself as the peat absorbs water. You may need to add more dry ingredients proportionately.

Troughs must be molded immediately after the hypertufa has been mixed; cement cannot wait! Line your mold with plastic (thin garbage bags work well). Try to minimize folds and creases. Use flexible molds.

Forming the Trough:

A handful at a time, begin patting the hypertufa inside your mold to form the bottom of the trough. Next, build up the walls, carefully firming each new handful onto the last so that no weak spot develops. Try not to overwork the mixture. Too much kneading and patting changes the structure and wetness of the mix, causing walls to “slump.” Use your finger or a piece of dowel to poke drainage holes in the bottom. Place entire mold into a large plastic bag to set up overnight. Cement troughs cure for 3 – 4 weeks in plastic bags. After curing, let the troughs sit for several days or weeks outdoors to allow the free lime in the cement to leach out. It is harmful to plants. To watch a YouTube video we made with instructions on making your own hypertufa troughs go to website and put the words “hypertufa” in the search bar at the top of the page.

Planting Your Container:

Parrino’s Greenhouses on Charles Colman Boulevard in Pawling and Petersen’s Greenhouses on Route 311 in Patterson offer a wide selection of succulents year round. They also have arrangements in containers that you can purchase or use as inspiration for your own arrangements. Stonecrop Gardens and Oliver Nurseries are a wonderful source for plants that do well in hypertufa containers too. Stonecrop sells bags of its own mix of fast draining, sandy soils for this purpose.

July Garden Calendar

Stonecrop Gardens, Cold Spring, NY

Open daily, Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

$10 admission for adults; $5 for seniors.

Hyland/Wente Garden, Millerton, NY

Open to the public Saturday July 21, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Open Days program, The Garden Conservancy.

$7 admission.

Garden of Lee Link, Sharon, CT

Open to the public Saturday July 21, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Open Days program, The Garden Conservancy.

$7 admission.

Dorian Winslow is the owner of Womanswork, Pawling NY, ( Email your gardening questions and comments to