Make a Cast Concrete Birdbath

You can walk into any garden store and buy a standard birdbath. Or you can make one that’s like no other. A cast concrete birdbath uses readily available and inexpensive materials, takes an afternoon to make (plus a few weeks to cure), and gives your garden its own special character. And that’s something you’ll never find in an off-the-shelf item.

Materials


  • 40-pound bag of concrete mix
  • 40-pound bag of sand
  • Roll of plastic wrap or plastic garbage bags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Hat
  • Cotton balls
  • Mineral oil
  • Shallow container for mixing concrete
  • Flat trowel for spreading concrete
  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Toothpicks
  • Paint brush or sponge
  • Acrylic paint
  • Concrete sealer
  • Large leaf (we used a rhubarb leaf, but other large leaves such as elephant’s ears would work well, too)

Method


Pick a flat, broad surface and cover it with plastic sheeting or a large plastic garbage bag split in two. Pile the sand in the center and form it into a dome shape that’s about 2 inches wider than the leaf all around. (See Photo 1, below.) Cover the sand with plastic wrap.

Put the leaf face down on the sand. Adjust the sand so that the leaf is fully supported. (See Photo 2, below.)

Brush the leaf liberally with mineral oil—this will help you remove the leaf after the concrete hardens. (See Photo 3, below.)

Put on the dust mask, gloves, and hat. Mix the concrete with water according to package instructions. (Err on the dry side, so the concrete doesn’t slip down the sides of the leaf.) Working from the center out to the edges, scoop handfuls of concrete onto the leaf and pat it down with your hands. (See Photo 4, below.) Smooth it out with a trowel. The concrete should be about 1 inch thick in the center and taper to about ½ inch at the edge.

Cover the concrete with plastic and let it sit for at least 48 hours. If it’s in a hot or dry spot, mist it periodically or lay a damp cloth over the plastic so the birdbath will dry evenly. After 48 hours, take off the plastic and turn the birdbath over. (See Photo 5, below.) It can be fragile at this stage, so ask a friend to help.


Tips


  • Do this project outside.
  • Wear rubber gloves so the mixture doesn’t irritate your skin.
  • Wear a dust mask so you don’t inhale particles from the dry mix.
  • Wear a hat so the concrete dust won’t settle in your hair.
  • Don’t pick the leaf until you’re ready. You don’t want it to wilt. If you have to pick it early, keep the stem in water.
  • When covering the leaf with concrete, bring the concrete a few inches past the cut stem. Otherwise the veins will drain the water right off the edge.
  • If there’s a tear or hole in the leaf, make a patch by tearing off a piece of another leaf and laying it over the hole before covering it with concrete.
  • Use smaller leaves as molds to make garden decorations.


Take off the other piece of plastic and pull the leaf out of the mold. Use a brush with stiff bristles to scrape off bits of leaf that stick. (See Photo 6, below.) Use a toothpick to get vein pieces out of the mold.

Then—walk away! Your birdbath must cure for at least one week (some suggest 20 days) before you do anything else.

When it’s cured, you can paint it. (See Photo 7, below.) We used pink acrylic paint, but you can also use oil, latex, watercolor, or spray paint. After you paint it (or if you just leave it unpainted), brush on concrete sealer. After painting or sealing, let it sit for a few more days.

All that’s left is to find the right spot for your birdbath and add water.

Even Better on a Pedestal


This birdbath looks great sitting in a depression in the soil right in your flowerbed. But many birds would rather have a little bit of height so they can see predators approaching. Now that you’ve got the hang of concrete, you can easily make a pedestal using the same materials. Look for a cardboard form at the hardware store. Invite a friend over to help you move the finished piece into place, as it will be quite heavy.