Hypertufa Project Disaster! Was It the Old Peat Moss?

After 13 Years of Hypertufa Success …
Disaster Strikes! Why??

Cinda emailed me today and asked:

Hi Claudia … I have been following your site for almost 2 years and finally have a question.

I moved and it’s been over a year since I’ve been able to make some hypertufa projects. I have been playing with hypertufa for over 13 years. I JUST made a little pot this weekend and man, I have never had such a bad result. πŸ™ My recipe didn’t change at all, but my peat moss and vermiculite had been in storage for over a year.

The other weird thing I did was use PAM “baking” spray. I’m almost wondering if it wasn’t the spray that ruined it. I didn’t have my normal release on hand. Hated to bother you, but I searched your site for a long time trying to find an answer to my question.

Thank you in advance for any help. Cinda from Corvallis, Oregon

p.s. The result has been that it just is not curing and almost feels like it’s moist, but it’s not. It’s like a dry crumble feeling???? Ha…don’t you love the descriptions?

My reply:

Hi Cinda:

Hey – first off – thanks for being such a loyal follower of my site! That’s nice to know. And, you’re not bothering me at all! This is a great learning situation for anyone reading this post. Especially newbies. I love trying to help others not repeat the mistakes myself or other hypertufa crafters have made.

On to your troubles. Well, I’m going to have to make educated, but perhaps some stab-in-the-dark guesses as to what the problem(s) might be. You have been working in hypertufa for so many years, so obviously you’ve got the hang of it! πŸ™‚ (You could teach us a thing or two, I am sure!)

I see one BIG “clue” to the possible problem that you’ve given … the peat moss was “in storage for over a year.” This could be the “BINGO!!” we’re looking for. So I’ll ask … did you pre-soak the peat for a nice long time so it could really absorb water?? I haven’t experienced it, but have learned of others having crumbly ‘tufa problems when they used “old” peat moss.Β 

While we may not think “old” peat moss would make a difference β€” after all, water is added into the recipe β€” it can and very often does because it slowly absorbs the water, because it’s too dry to begin with, that’s necessary for the Portland cement to cure properly! So, this is my #1 guess to your problem.

Next … could it be the humidity level in the Oregon air? You just moved there, haven’t done any other hypertufa projects and “maybe” you just didn’t provide enough moisture during the curing process?

Or maybe you’re just out of the swing of things and it’s been awhile and well … you had a failure. But I doubt this. I’m going to wager the problem was the too-dry peat moss.

Last, I do not think using PAM is the issue, as many use it, myself included at times. Your problem, to me, points back to a recipe and/or curing glitch.

Does this make sense to you?? I’d say ditch the old peat moss and go buy a new bale. It’s pretty cheap, plus you can use some if you want in your garden as a soil amendment. πŸ˜‰

Please let us know what the result is of your next project as it would be interesting and informative to learn what you decided the culprit was in this unsuccessful hypertufa project. Good luck next time around!


  1. Tillie Griffith says:

    I think it may have been to HOT for it to cure. Needs to be above 60 and below 90 to cure properly.

  2. I had a failure this year as well. My mistake was using old portland cement … it had lumps that didn’t all work out with hand crushing. My peat was also old, but went on to use it in the next batch with fresh cement with good results. Always an experiment.

  3. I do NOT have a solution, as I’m still learning about this art form. However, your comment about the humidity content in Corvalis OR made me wonder where Cinda live prior to moving? I have a friend here in Central VA who successfully makes H.T, articles and our humidity is “up there”.

  4. John Nelson says:

    The Peat Moss has got to be fine, just soak it overnight, but how was the Portland? Powdery or lumpy, that is the critical ingredient in Hypertufa. It is VERY susceptible to moisture.
    Happy Hypertufaering!

  5. Valerie says:


  6. This was so-o-o informative. My friend and I got into creating the Hypertufa planters last summer. Hers never did set up. Mine made it through the winter in storage but this summer if I’m not careful in picking it up, the egdes crumble. We used old mulch and didn’t know to soak it. So wqe were doomed twice!
    With failure comes knowledge! So next time, we’ll use new WET mulch. Thank you for a fun/idea filled website!

  7. Claudia says:


    I could be wrong here – without being right by someone’s side when they’re mixing up the ingredients makes it hard to try and guess what the cause is of a project’s failure – but rather than vermiculite holding more water than perlite, you probably added in just a bit too much water to the recipe.

    That’s why my Mixing Guidelines for Hypertufa article advises you add in about as much water as you think you’ll need, and THEN WALK AWAY for 10 minutes to let it “rest.” You water the water to really soak in to all the ingredients.

    Then, after 10 minutes you can see if you need a little more water or not. Or if it’s got too much water!

    Read the article since you’re new to working with ‘tufa. I think it’ll help you.

  8. Claudia says:

    Hi Debbie:

    Ah … the joys of getting the hang of working with all the temperamental ingredients in hypertufa! LOL It should be easier, shouldn’t it??

    Refer to all my hypertufa articles sitting on the main website to educate yourself some more. At least check out the Mixing Guidelines for Hypertufa.

    Good luck with your next project! πŸ™‚

  9. Claudia says:

    Hi Tillie:

    Yes – you’re right about the minimum and maximum temps, but I “assumed” Cinda was aware of that since she’s been working with ‘tufa for so many years. Maybe Cinda will respond and let us know how hot (or cold) it was when she was doing this project.


  10. Claudia says:

    Yes Diana – if you’ve got lumps forming in the portland, it’s a gamble to try and use it. But like you said, you used old peat in fresh portland and it all worked out. That’s the thing about working with cement – it can be temperamental when it wants to! πŸ™‚

  11. Claudia says:

    Hi Catherine:

    You WANT higher humidity if you can when you’re making a ‘tufa project. That humidity helps your friend. πŸ™‚

    The humidity aids the curing process. It’s the drier climates that make it a bit more difficult – you have to make sure you’re misting the item enough during the cure so it takes it’s time to cure and not dry out too fast. Drying out too quickly can be cause for failure.

  12. Helene Berg says:

    Love your sight…everything is so informative and enthusiastic. I learn so much every time. Thank you for being so dedicated to us tufa addicts. However… I just had to comment here that I get peat moss in a pallet load, some of the stuff I’m using right now is 5 – 10 years old. It’s never been a problem. I use my peat moss dry and just add enough moisture to make it work, like usual. I read somewhere that the tufa mix should sit for 10 minutes before actually beginning a project. I usually do that and maybe that helps to get the right consistency. I find that I cannot measure exactly the actual moisture needed for any project – it’s different every time, so if you just get the consistency right, it works, no matter how old the peat is.

  13. Did she say she used Pam BAKE? That one has flour in it which along with the other suggestions might make a difference.

  14. Hi, this was a very informative article. I’m just getting ready to make my first attempt using H.T. I’m very anxious. I’ve got really cool molds. I intend to start small. How do you add decorative articls to the pots? I don’t plan to do this until much later, but I’d think it would be neat! I love your articles and website. Wish me luck! Kay

  15. Hey Guys….Cinda here!

    So, I have lived in Oregon all my life. It was a nice 75 degree day. My first gut feeling was the peat moss I used was bad. I sift it and I had sifted some into a large container and that, is what sat for over a year. Also, in response to John….I did have clumpy Portland Cement. I sifted that to get the big clumps out, but went ahead and used it course. OBVIOUSLY…I was so excited to get back into it. But, you won’t succeed unless you fall on your face, right? I’m going to buy NEW peat and NEW Portland. It might be a couple of weeks, but I will let you know how my next pot turns out. I appreciate all the advise and support. Love it!

    Thank you all…and especially to you, Claudia for responding.

  16. Lyn. Waring says:


    As a child I’ve worked with portland cement and had some mishaaps when I used old cement. After checking with some contractors here in India, fresh cement is absolutely necessary for any project to be a success. I recently made some concrete leaves and set them to cure in a big basin of water for a night and day, came out perfectly. I can’t get perlite or vermivulite, wish I could as I want to try some hypertufa projects. I’m a faithful follower of the artistic gardener projects and love the news letters.

  17. Hi Kay:

    Don’t be anxious – just read all you can, make sure your ingredients are FRESH, think positively and move forward with your project. πŸ™‚

    As I say all over my site – if you’re brand new to working with hypertufa and/or concrete, then start out small! In that way, if you unfortunately do have a disaster, you’ve not wasted a lot of time, effort and money on ingredients. Make notes of your recipe ratios.

    I will stress you read about how to properly mix up your ingredients here: Mixing Guidelines for Hypertufa.

    How to add in decorative pieces to a pot? PUSH them into the wet ‘tufa. You might want to paint the backs of them with a bonding agent. Many people don’t bother with that as you’ll probably soon learn once concrete comes into contact with almost any surface and dries – it’s there for life!!

    Have fun!

  18. Helene:

    TY for sharing about your experience with old peat. You sound like a ‘tufa makin’ pro! πŸ™‚

    You probably know, and I keep trying to tell people, that often what will work for one person may not for another. There are a few variables in getting a concrete or hypertufa recipe to come out OK. I’ve had my disasters in the midst of a long line of successful projects. Go figure! But no one, especially a newbie, should be afraid to dive in and just try a project. I’ve had emails from many crafters all excited, because their very first project was a total success.

    You’re VERY right that the wet mix should rest for 10 minutes – I instruct to do that in my Mixing Guidelines for Hypertufa article, as a matter of fact. (Great minds think alike! LOL)

  19. Greetings to you in India. (Would love to visit one day.)

    Thanks for sharing your “fresh cement” tip and how you cure your leaves. Plus, I appreciate compliments about my site too! Just wait another month or two … I’ve got BIG changes planned for Artistic Garden. πŸ˜‰

  20. Good question to ask, Bonnie, but I don’t think she did. But nevertheless, you’ve taught people who will use a cooking spray to get one that nly contains OIL and nothing else. πŸ˜‰ Thanks.

  21. I recently made some concrete leaves and set them to cure in a big basin of water for a night and day, came out perfectly. I can’t get perlite or vermivulite, wish I could as I want to try some hypertufa projects.I use my peat moss dry and just add enough moisture to make it work, like usual. I read somewhere that the tufa mix should sit for 10 minutes before actually beginning a project. I usually do that and maybe that helps to get the right consistency.

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