concrete

Concrete Planters: Sexy Succulents DIY Style

I was looking for holiday gift ideas and Karen suggested succulents and I was also anxious to try DIYing some concrete planters because it seemed all the rage on Instagram so I went for it!

Step 1 DIY Concrete Planters : Make Concrete Forms

I looked around for household items that I could use as forms. I've seen posts from folks that used all sorts of crafty items, so I ended up with:

  • Tupperware
  • Pho soup takeout container
  • Cover for a DVD-R spindle - (Because everyone has one of these sitting around!)
  • Styrofoam container
  • LEGOs - Thanks to Sebastian's brilliant idea!
Time to get the kids busy building a LEGO form.

Time to get the kids busy building a LEGO form.

Completed LEGO form on a melamine casting surface with mini plastic Solo cup for the planting area.

Completed LEGO form on a melamine casting surface with mini plastic Solo cup for the planting area.

Here are several examples of my DIY concrete planter forms.

Preparing the DIY Concrete Forms

Casting concrete requires a little bit of upside-down thinking. You need to pour concrete into a mold and put in knockouts to create pockets of space. In all of my cases, I used a small cup to form the area where my succulents will be planted. The bottom of the form will end up becoming the top of my planter.

I used a silicone caulk to seal the cups upside-down to the bottom of all my forms to ensure the opening of the planting area would be nice and smooth.

Step 2 DIY Concrete Planters: Mixing the Concrete for the Planters

I made batches of concrete mix using:

  • Portland Cement - this is the raw powder that binds and hardens
  • Sand - this is an aggregate that is mixed to give it some additional strength and texture
  • Green glass - I broke up some beer bottles to mix in some additional aggregate to add some variety to the finish on some of the planters

For most of the batches of mix I took 5 scoops of cement and 3 scoops of sand.

Step 3: Pouring the concrete into the mold

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Since this form was larger, I was able to sprinkle some of the green glass at the bottom of the form before pouring the concrete.

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Step 4 DIY Concrete Planters: Vibrating the Mold

You need make sure all the concrete fills the mold completely and allow air bubbles to escape to the surface, so I used an electric hand sander to vibrate all around the form. It helped to level out the concrete and make sure the finish was free from too many holes along the finished surface. You'll never get all of them out, but it helps greatly to reduce the bubbles.

Step 5 DIY Concrete Planters: Breaking the concrete from the mold - The Fun Part!

I broke the concrete from the mold about 18 hours after pouring - you could say it was early, but my time was limited. The planters casted in the plastic containers released from the mold very easily. As the concrete dries it shrinks a tad, so all I had to do is flip it over it squeeze around the container.

The LEGO mold was fun, and a great activity for the kids - they had to release the form piece-by-piece.

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The styrofoam mold was the most difficult, as I had to cut using a blade and tear off pieces to release the form completely. The concrete picks up imprints of all the textures from the mold, so all the cellular foam patterns appeared on the surface. 

Step 6 DIY Concrete Planters: Sanding DIY Concrete Planters (only two of them required sanding)

There was green glass aggregate I wanted to expose on two of the planters, so I used a wet concrete polisher with a 50, then 200 grit pad to polish off a layer of concrete, otherwise it wouldn't be seen. (This isn't' one of these tools most people have handy, but from doing our countertops, I actually had one... and was siked I got to use it again!)

The planter from the foam form also needed polishing to remove the rough finish left behind from the cellular pattern.

Before sanding

Before sanding

After sanding

After sanding

Step 7 DIY Concrete Planters: Arranging the Succulents

We sourced plants from our 'secret garden' (aka - Lolo's backyard, for which we owe much thanks)I put a layer of small stones at the bottom of each pot, added my cactus soil, then topped it off with a final layer of stones. I finished them off by adding felt pads to avoid scratching the table. After doing a couple I let Karen and the kids finish the remaining pots and add their artistic touch. Those receiving these succulents can thank them!

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They turned out great and we were very happy with the results. Looking forward to seeing what else we can make! 

P.S. - Much thanks for Mark Melonas at @lukeworks for inspiration.

How to Make Floating Concrete Steps

DIY Concrete Steps

Concrete steps are commonly used to create a walkway to a home, but floating concrete steps added a little extra feature while we were committing to pouring all this concrete.

Options for Front Walkway and Steps

You can create steps using a variety of materials:

  • Brick or Pavers - easier to DIY
  • Precast concrete - moderate to DIY, but heavy lifting

  • Pour in place concrete - lower DIY cost, but more labor

Pour In Place Concrete Walkways

We chose the more difficult DIY path and enjoyed learning a few things along the way as a first-time project. It turned out no where near the quality of a pro-grade job, but certainly suited the budget. We had previous experience casting our concrete countertops so this project was definitely easier, but still involved a lot of sweat and patience.

Steps to Pour a Concrete Walkway

  1. Excavate the ground for the walkway
  2. Build the wooden frames for each step
  3. Pour the concrete

Excavating the Ground for Concrete Steps

2x4 planks were laid out to help calculate how many steps and what size to make them. I measured a total rise of 18" from the sidewalk to the landing, and figured that each step would be about six inches. This left me with an option of three steps to get to the sidewalk level, where I would need to put two small pads even with the sidewalk.

Forms for Concrete Steps

Each step was 3.5" thick (standard 2x4 plank), so the first two steps could be simply formed using 2x4s. The three steps up would require 1x6 or 2x6 lumber, because the floating effect required a 2x4 to fill in under the step. Stakes were hammered in to keep the forms in place.

The floating effect is created by adding a 2x4 laid flat along the bottom-front of the form, so that it overlaps the step form below it.

Compacted gravel and mesh was added (which is optional) for the steps. Using the mesh has been debated where one school of thought is that is holds it together to prevent cracking, while the other school believes that a 3-4" thick slab is now weakened by rebar, now leaving less than 1.5" of concrete above and below the rebar.

Cutting mesh at night with an angle grinder.

Cutting mesh at night with an angle grinder.

Freshly poured step after troweling.

Freshly poured step after troweling.

When making the floating steps, the you need to pour from the bottom up because the forms overlap each other, so the forms above need to be removed. We did one step a day - removed the form before pouring the one above.

The form freshly removed the following day. Notice the knockout provided by the 2x4 to create the floating effect, which was also removed.

The form freshly removed the following day. Notice the knockout provided by the 2x4 to create the floating effect, which was also removed.

Finished Concrete Steps

Our troweling job wasn't the best, so a slurry mix was applied to smooth out some rough spots using a sponge.

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What We Learned From DIY Concrete Steps

  1. Each step was almost 4'x4' which took about 6-9 bags (60lb bags) per step. (Many trips to Lowes!)
  2. 1x6 fencing wood seemed more ideal than 2x6 lumber - it's cheaper and easier to remove the forms which became scrap wood.
  3. The form assembly was done using wood screws, but the catch was putting in the screws in locations the could be accessible after a pour, to make removal easy. We chipped a few corners of hacking away with a SawZall at hard to reach screws.
  4. We did this our our California winter break, so temps were 40-50, which slowed drying times. You could pour and trowel, then come back the next morning to apply the finish troweling/floating work.