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For your mold, you will need 2 plastic storage bins (one smaller than the other) like the kind you can find at Target stores. 2. Make a basic dry mixture of three parts perlite, three parts, peat moss, and two parts Portland cement in a large plastic tub. Work with a drop cloth, because this is a very messy job, and wear a mask to avoid breathing in harmful cement dust. Working outside or in a garage is best. 3. Always wear heavy duty rubber gloves and never handle the mixture with your bare hands (cement is caustic). Add water to the dry ingredients to form a cement mixture that is the consistency of mud pies. It will dry to a lighter shead. This is the time you can add color if you want. Cement color works best. I prefer a mottled, uneven, natural, look so I buy 2 different cement colors and shake them from their bottles randomly and unevenly into the mixture. I then mix lightly so the coloring will be sure to be uneven. 4. To begin building your trough, place the larger plastic storage bin on the drop cloth with the opening facing up. To make the bottom of the trough, pour in a one-inch layer of cement. Cut three-quarter-inch mesh chicken wire to the same shape as the box, but one inch smaller on all sides. Place it on top of the first layer of wet cement for reinforcement. Then top this with another one-inch layer of cement. Lightly smooth the surface to make it even. (I have successfully made a trough without reinforcement by making the bottom 3 inches thick—but this adds to the weight of the trough.) 5. Place the smaller plastic storage bin inside the large one and center it. Ideally, you should be able to fill in the sides to a thickness of about 2 to 2 ½ inches. If your walls are at least 2 inches thick, they won’t need to be reinforced. Use a trowel to fill the mold with cement. Use an old broomstick stick to tamp it down around the edges to eliminate air pockets. 6. Smooth the top edges. Cover the mold with a plastic sheet so that it remains moist white the cement sets. Let the trough cure for about 24 to 26 hours. Then carefully remove it from the molds. It is very fragile at this point so be careful. To make drainage holes, use a power drill fitted with a masonry bit. Drill several holes in the bottom carefully. To make the trough look more naturally worn and aged, take a wire brush and vigorously ‘work’ the outer surfaces, top and edges to soften any hint of the mold it came from (see photo). You can do as much or as little of this as your artistic bent prefers. 7. Then leave it alone for a week before you handle it again. Ideally, make this in the fall of the year, put it in a corner of your yard to be exposed to the elements all winter. This will assure that the PH of the trough becomes neutral and better for planting in. In the spring, fill with dirt and palnt with flowers…or make it into a small rock garden.
Cover the drainage holes with crockery or wire screen. If you’re planting alpines, the soil mixture should generally be both organically rich and well drained. Consult a nursery specialist to determine which alpine perennials grow best in your region. Choose plants with a slow growth rate. Young plants in 2’/4-inch pots arc an ideal size for starting out. (If you put other sorts of plants in troughs, plant them as described for terra-cotta.) Fill the trough nearly to the rim with the soil mix. Arrange rocks, if you desire, on top. A rule of thumb is that rocks in nature, like icebergs, are mostly below ground. For a "natural" look, bury up to two-thirds of
the rock, or position the rock so that it looks as though there’s more rock below, even if there isn’t. Planting takes time, carefully scooping out holes between the rocks to position the plants. Spread a mulch of coarse gravel that marches the rocks (available at aquarium stores). Mulch fills crevices, prevents rot by keeping moisture away from the bases of the plants, keeps roots cool, and retards evaporation. Because alpine plants suitable for troughs grow slowly, these little rock gardens are long-term projects. The plants can live outside throughout the year, even in cold climates, but they should be placed in the shade of a fence or building in winter to prevent the destructive freeze-thaw cycle from distressing both container and plants. They can also be overwintered in a bright, cool greenhouse or a cold frame.