Making stonelike small troughs is easy. Here is my way of making them with papercrete. Concrete is composed of Portland cement plus one or more different kinds of filler such as sand, pebbles, peat moss, perlite, and paper.  These are known as aggregates and different ones give you different effects.

Papercrete is a variant of concrete and hypertufa but uses finely shredded paper instead of peat moss. Proportions are:
 *** 3 parts Portland Cement, Type I
 ** 2 parts (dry volume, loosely packed) finely shredded paper, and
 ** 2 to 3 parts perlite or sand.

Don't make it too papery. Small newspaper shreds from a paper shredder are absorbent and easy to work with.  Papercrete has a fairly smooth consistency and the paper fibers make it easy to shape. If made properly it is weatherproof and fireproof. Water is added at about 1 part water to 7 parts dry ingredients, but this is variable.

Supply Checklist
__ all ingredients for papercrete (see above)     __nails       __scissor
__mold or form for the troug      __rubber gloves
__trowel or small shovel for mixing       __dust mask
__board for making and carrying the project on
__waterproof plastic or rubber mixing container 
__drop cloths to protect working area
__water and measuring cup
__plastic sheeting and duct tape

Supplies. Use rubber gloves, a large trowel or small shovel, a dust mask, a wheelbarrow or mixing container, plastic sheeting to protect your work space, a mold or form for the trough, plastic bags to line the mold or form, a source of water, a measuring cup, and a large, sturdy board upon which to make and transport your project.

Pick a Project. Decide what size and shape of trough you will make. The first time you do this, keep it small. Get your mold or form ready and place it on a plastic-covered carrying board. Make your trough inside or outside the form.

Get Ready. Put on the gloves and dust mask and then pour all the dry ingredients into the wheel-barrow or mixing container. Break up lumps. *** Do not add water until the mold or form is ready and sitting on the carrying board. *** When the concrete mix is wet you can remove your mask.  

Basic Mixing Technique. Moisten the ingredients with as LITTLE water as possible (eg.7 cups mix and 1 cup of water) and knead it in thoroughly. Make a stiff dough that holds its shape without dripping or crumbling. Add water or mix if necessary to correct the consistency. Smack and pat the concrete mixture into the inside of, or onto the outside of, your mold or form. Work it very firmly to get out the air bubbles.

MAKE A SMALL TROUGH INSIDE A DISPOSABLE FORM. The simplest method I know for making a small trough is to use a small round or square a polystyrene food container or a disposable paper paint mixing bucket. Set it on the carrying board. Put on your gloves and mask and mix the concrete. Press in the dampened concrete mix, firmly, making an even bottom and building up the walls. An inch or more of thickness, evenly applied, is good. Cut out or shape a drainage hole in the center. On its board, carry it to a shady, dry place, covered with plastic, and let it set for about 48 hours. Remove the trough, cutting away the form if necessary. The form can be used again if you just slit it on one side and tape it firmly next time.

Gently wrap the trough with plastic sheeting. On its carrying board, move the covered trough to a dry, shady place such as the garage.  To clean up, immediately rinse out your mixing tools and mixing container with water, before the concrete mix hardens. This will be a very alkaline mixture so be careful where you dump it out (not on the acid-soil-loving azaleas!). Don't put it down the drain or it could cause clogging.

Smoothing and Aging. Let the project cure for over 24 hours but not over 48 hours. It may feel warm after 20 to 30 hours – it is curing. Remove it from the wrappings very carefully and then take time to sand, scratch, smooth out, or age the surface until the shape and texture appeal to you, using an old chisel, can opener, ice scraper, or other sturdy tool. Antique troughs of real stone were chiseled. Scrape off all stiff-looking edges, bubbles from molding, and the like. Rewrap it in the plastic and continue curing it in a cool, shady place. 28 days is ideal but 14 days has worked for me. It continues to age and cure after use.

Planting. When the trough has cured, use it like any weatherproof flowerpot. The cement is somewhat alkaline, especially when new. Choose small plants in proportion to the container, then set them into place using soil suited to the type of plant. Top the soil with a mulch of small stones or grit, or for shady gardens, a sheet of moss.

For a complete guide to making and planting large or small hypertufa troughs, refer to the book Creating and Planting Garden Troughs, by Joyce Fingerut and Rex Murfitt  Find it at or For an illustrated guide to papercrete, order the CD from me at B. B. Mackey Books, P.O. Box 475, Wayne, PA 19087. It runs on Windows computers. For USA customers only, it is $10.00 postpaid.

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