Isn’t it depressing? 

When the  winter cold sets in and I know I am not going to get to “play in the mud” for many months, I can get really “down in the dumps.”

When I found an article on making Almost Hypertufa troughs from old Styrofoam, it seemed like a good idea. And I was anxious to try either as a faux or almost hypertufa, or just to mix up some mortar  and coat the outside of the Styrofoam box, perhaps to make a more insulated planter.

Finding the Styrofoam boxes was not a problem.

Some I have found in thrift stores.  I suppose they are discarded fishing supplies in some instances. Some of them may be a discarded mailer or transporting container for medicines that must be shipped in an insulated container and have to stay cold with dry ice? So there is possibly a free supply at the pharmacy or medical facility?

Making A Styrofoam Planter - It's Almost Like Hypertufa

My YouTube Channel - Kim's Gardens

I have found large Styrofoam shipping boxes at the local grocery. These are shipping boxes for fresh fish and seafood.

My  daughter asked the meat department at our local Kroger store and got several long fish boxes, lids and all.

They are stinky, but a quick wash made it better. I have kept them outside stacked on my deck to make sure they air out. I have not seen a single cat!   LOL   


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Step One:  Putting a Texture on the Sides

Your first step is to take a bread knife and scrape at the outside of the box. Remove any lip or double edge on the top, and if your box has them, trim  around the corners. (My taste, maybe not yours).  Then, using a wire brush, like this Osborn International Steel Wire Scratch Brush scrape  gently down the sides, using up/down or side to side strokes. I have done both. I’ve even done both together which turned out like a basket-weave texture, I thought.

WARNING: This is so messy because those little beady-things go all over the place when you scrape them. Wetting them down helps, but just scrape and plan on vacuuming with your husband’s Shop Vac to clean it up. (I’m not messing up mine!) In fact, do this part in the garage. I did 4 or so at a time, then cleaned up the big mess. When you finish, the Styrofoam excess can be recycled. (Update: In some areas, this cannot be included in your recycle bin. Check locally to see if you can.)

Next you will need to heat the surface of the Styrofoam with a Professional Heavy Duty Heat Gun with LED 12 Temperature Settings .

 Don’t heat the Styrofoam enough to burn it. It WILL CAUSE FUMES which are not good for you to breathe.  Just wave the gun over the surface to cause some of the “softness” to harden gently, not til it’s brittle. Do this outside or in vented garage.

Use a drill 18-Volt One Plus Drill Driver Kit to make a few large drain holes in the bottom. For a one square foot bottom, I would put no less than four holes. These are NOT POROUS like hypertufa!

It’s great to have your own drill and the cordless ones are fantastic.



You need to be sure that you create enough drain holes. But these planters still are good for plants that may need a little more moisture than the sedums/succulents that are best suited to your hypertufa.

Would you want a cement exterior? Check out this video. It works just fine!

Styrofoam planters - Coated with Cement Slurry - Almost The Real Thing

My YouTube Channel - Kim's Gardens

 Step Two:  Painting it Creatively


Try to get it cheaply on the “Mistakes” bin at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Paint is expensive at $35-45+ a gallon, so get the $10 per gallon mark down! Especially when you will be experimenting with buffs, browns, grays, tans, blacks, browns (they looked purple when I painted). Get a variation of  white to dilute other colors.


Paint entirely  including a little ways onto the bottom and down inside the top a few inches so that your soil level covers the white Styrofoam. You don’t want that to show above the soil or at the bottom.

 If you don’t feel you need a whole gallon or quart, get those little sample jars! Perfect for an experimental idea at $3.  I found that I liked the look of completely painting the box  in one color, then sponging or dabbing or streaking a little unevenly as a top or second coating ( I did it while the other was still wet) …but each is unique!


Mortaring – If You Want

When I painted some of my faux or almost hypertufa planters, I mixed some of the paint with mortar (figure your paint as a portion of the liquid per your mixing instructions). It is very thick or thin, depending on how you mix it. But I could either paint it on or use a trowel and smooth it on thinly and brush-streak it. I think some of it seems to paint on easily and really look like concrete or hypertufa. What do you think?


The ones I have made this past fall are out in this -30 degree weather and snow. I have seen no deterioration as yet. I will report what I see after the thaw.

*Feb 18,  2013 Snow has melted and I can uncover the faux hypertufa. It is like new. No deterioration of the paint or the mortared surfaces. This was my first time over-wintering the painted faux trough and the mortared Styrofoam. Success!

These resulting planters are to be used for ornamental plants etc. I don’t think they should be used for food crops. You may want to research that if you feel differently.