Make Your Own Garden Trough

Make Your Own Garden Trough

Part of Ep. 503 On the Rocks

Join Ed Glover, a member of the North American Rock Garden Society, as he demonstrates how to make a concrete trough.

Premiere date: May 31, 1997

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We've shown you how you can use rock garden troughs in your back yard. Now we'll show you how you can make your own rock garden container. I'm with Ed Glover. Ed is a member of the North American Rock Garden Society. Ed, you make a lot of these troughs. Do you need fancy equipment, or is there a fancy recipe?

Ed:
Not at all, Shelley. The equipment you need is very simple, almost everybody has around their home shop or their garden shed. The recipe is equal parts of: perlite, peat moss and portland cement.

Shelley:
That's easy enough.

Ed:
That's right. And then, you just add a small handful of this concrete reinforcement fiber to your mix.

Shelley:
Now, what are those?

Ed:
That adds strength to your trough so it can withstand Wisconsin winters.

Shelley:
The freezing and thawing and all that.

Ed:
That's right. Those reinforcement fibers will link together and stop cracks in the concrete.

Shelley:
Are those readily available?

Ed:
They're available at most concrete supply stores.

Shelley:
Okay, the only thing we might have to look around for.

Ed:
That's right. Everything else is available very easily.

Shelley:
You said equal parts. About how much do we need to make...

Ed:
I usually use about a half-gallon ice cream container. And to build a small trough, I use two container fulls and a small handful of fiber.

Shelley:
Okay, and we mix it together?

Ed:
Right, mix the dry ingredients, and then add just enough water.

Shelley:
How much is enough?

Ed:
How much is so that when you make a ball, it'll hold together. And when you squeeze it, you just get a few drops of water coming out.

Shelley:
That's enough, then.

Ed:
That's just right.

Shelley:
I noticed that you're wearing gloves.

Ed:
Right. The portland cement is very caustic and you could burn your hand by prolonged contact.

Shelley:
So, we've mixed it perfectly. And I'm assuming that if we got it too wet, we could add a little bit more of the dry materials in.

Ed:
Right. Or, if it's too dry, add a little bit more water, no problem.

Shelley:
So, we've got it perfect. Now what do we do?

Ed:
You just need to decide what shape and size you'd like your trough to be.

Shelley:
The container.

Ed:
Right. And it's very simple to find containers. I've made one from a flower pot. You could use a feed pan from a farm supply store.

Shelley:
So, basically, look around in your garage.

Ed:
Right. Or, even easier, look under your sink. A dishpan makes a dandy form for a trough. It's just right for a small number of plants and it's easy to make.

Shelley:
You've lined this with plastic.

Ed:
Right. This is just a thin plastic garbage bag. That will make it easier to unmold when you're all done.

Shelley:
Now, what do we do now?

Ed:
We just need to add the mix to our mold.

Shelley:
So, we're just packing it by hand?

Ed:
Pack it by hand and just give it a nice, smooth texture.

Shelley:
How thick?

Ed:
About an inch to an inch and a half thick for a trough this size. That'll make it plenty strong.

Shelley:
Thicker if it's a bigger container?

Ed:
Right.

Shelley:
Don't we need drainage for a rock garden?

Ed:
We sure do. So, what we do now, is we just stick some dowels in here. Work them down through and pack the material around. Leave those in until it hardens. When you pull them out, you'll have a drainage hole in the bottom.

Shelley:
Now, you pack the bottom first and then work up the sides. So, we would do this all at once.

Ed:
That's right.

Shelley:
And then, we let it harden and we're finished?

Ed:
Right. What we want to do now is wrap this plastic around. And then we'll stick the whole form inside a plastic garbage bag. Set this in your garage where it's about 50 or 60 degrees and just leave it.

Shelley:
Why?

Ed:
Well, we need to let the cement harden. It will take 24-72 hours.

Shelley:
So, we just pick a number of hours that's good for us, or is there a test?

Ed:
The way I do it, is every 24 hours, I try to scratch it. And when it doesn't scratch with your fingernail, it's hard enough to work with.

Shelley:
Okay. So, then what do we do?

Ed:
The next step is to unmold your trough. We've tested this one, it's strong enough. So, we're just going to unmold it from the form.

Shelley:
Would you take the dowels out?

Ed:
Yes, I would take all of them out first. That will give you the drainage holes. Now we'll just turn it upside down and pull the plastic off.

Shelley:
It's not that heavy, either.

Ed:
No, the perlite and peat moss make it very light. Now, the problem you'll see, is that this is very smooth. It has that new concrete finish to it.

Shelley:
It looks very artificial.

Ed:
It's not going to look very nice in your garden at all. So, the next step is to look on your workbench and see what you can find to rough it up and give it a textured look. I like to use a wire brush or a dandelion digger. Use anything that'll give it a rough finish.

Shelley:
So, we're artificially weathering it.

Ed:
Right. And we can also eliminate any of the plastic bag marks that are on there, too.

Shelley:
Sure, the wrinkles.

Ed:
Right. This will make it look good when it sits in your garden.

Shelley:
Is the concrete hard enough now, so that we are finished and we can do planting?

Ed:
No, this is just the first curing. What we need to do now is spray this with a little water...

Shelley:
After we're done roughing it.

Ed:
Right. Put it back inside our plastic garbage bag.

Shelley:
In the container or just the plastic?

Ed:
By itself in the garbage bag. Set it in the corner of your garage and leave it there for at least one week.

Shelley:
Why would we do that?

Ed:
That allows the concrete to harden up even more and give it strength.

Shelley:
So, that's the curing.

Ed:
Right. And if you have a little patience and leave it for three or four weeks, it will be about 25 percent stronger.

Shelley:
That's that strength we need for our winters.

Ed:
That's right.

Shelley:
Okay, so we've let it cure for three or four weeks. What else?

Ed:
One more step. This is an easy one. Now you take your completed trough, set it out in your garden...

Shelley:
Out of the plastic bag?

Ed:
Out of the bag-- You set it out in the garden and leave it exposed to the elements. Let it get rained on, and the sunshine. Leave that for about two months.

Shelley:
And it's not planted at this point.

Ed:
Nope. What that will do is leach out all the toxic material from the portland cement which would be harmful to your plants.

Shelley:
So, let it sit out and kind of age.

Ed:
That's right.

Shelley:
You've got a variety of containers here. In fact, you've got one planted. These are already starting to weather.

Ed:
You can see that some of them look a little better already.

Shelley:
They start to look old and more rustic. This would be a great saturday project.

Ed:
It sure is. Invite a couple of friends over, take turns mixing and building and you'll soon have a miniature rock garden.

Shelley:
Thanks, Ed. And here's an even smaller one. You can use leftover materials to make something like this.

Shelley:
Are you ready to start planting your rock garden? You'll need full sun and well-drained soil. An elevated sight is recommended so these little beauties aren't lost among taller perennials. You don't have to have rocks, but they can certainly add interest to your garden. Don't forget foliage, either. Foliage is what ties any garden together. Greenery adds texture and helps keep your garden interesting, even if nothing at all is in bloom. You can learn more about rock gardening plants by visiting public rock gardens. Allen Centennial Gardens on the UW-Madison campus has a superb rock garden. It will give you lots of ideas. They're open to the public from dawn to dusk, year round.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.