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How to make a sand-cast birdbath

By: Sherri Ribbey
Customize your own birdbath using any large leaf, sand and concrete mix and some paint to really make it your own.

This sand-cast birdbath is easy to make, works with any large leaf and it can be finished a number of ways. For a large birdbath, like the one in the photo above, plants like rhubarb, gunnera or ‘Sum and Substance’ hosta work best. This one’s rhubarb.

You’re not limited to big leaves. This process will work with just about any type. I’ve used sycamore, oak, datura, and lantana. I use the sycamore as a ground feeder and scatter the rest of the concrete leaves through my garden as ornaments.

When it comes to concrete, even though its the most expensive, I like Vinyl Patch by Quickcrete®. When it’s dry, its fine consistency preserves the details of the leaf clearly. Less expensive concretes are just as strong but they look coarser. You can do this project on the ground, but I’d recommend using some kind of table — it’s easier on your knees and back. I use a table made of a sheet of plywood and two sawhorses.

Who’d have guessed that for less than $25 and a few hours of work, you could have such a unique garden ornament? Are you ready to make your own? Let’s get started.

What you’ll need

Materials

  • Large leaf
  • 1 bag of sand
  • 2 bags of concrete
  • Water
  • Plastic wrap
  • Paint or concrete dye (optional)
  • Concrete sealer

Tools

  • Bucket or mixing Tray for concrete
  • Hoe for mixing
  • Scrub brush
  • Paintbrush
  • Foam brush
  • 2 containers for paint and sealer

How to make the birdbath

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Step one — Getting started

I make my ornaments at a table outside, but this project can be done on the ground, too. Start by making a dome-shaped pile of sand that’s big enough for the entire leaf to rest on plus a couple of inches to spare. This rhubarb leaf used all of a 40-lb. bag of sand. Any type will do. The sand pile will support the concrete-covered leaf and create the shallow depression that holds the water. In the photo above, I’m covering the completed sand dome with plastic wrap to keep the sand from sticking to any concrete that might leak through or run over the edge of the leaf.

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Step two — Bring in the leaf

Now lay the leaf face down on top of the sand like the one above. After I laid this leaf down, I needed to adjust the sand pile a bit to make sure the leaf was fully supported. You may need to do this, too. Many leaves wilt quickly, so wait to harvest yours until you need it or keep it in a bucket of water until you’re ready. Cut the stem off close to the base of the leaf. Check the plastic wrap to make sure it extends a couple of inches beyond the leaf edge. If the leaf you want to use has a hole or a tear, no problem. Just cut a piece from a different leaf and use it as a patch.

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Step three — Time for concrete

Pour the dry concrete into a mixing tray and add water until it’s the consistency of a thick brownie mix. (It took three quarters of a 40-lb. bag for this leaf). Scoop some concrete onto the center of the leaf and begin working it toward the outer edges like I’m doing in the photo above. Make it about 3/4 in. thick in the middle (or whatever it takes to cover the leaf veins) and taper it to 1/4 in. at the edge. Once the leaf is covered with concrete, cover it with plastic wrap. If it’s hot outdoors, put a piece of moist burlap over the plastic so the concrete dries evenly. Give it at least 48 hours to dry.

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Step four — Dry and clean

After at least 48 hours, you can remove the top layer of plastic and turn your concrete leaf over. In my experience, if it hasn’t dried thoroughly, a chunk along the edge is the most likely part to break off as you pick it up. To be on the safe side, have a friend help you turn it over or work your hand through the sand and lift it from the center. Peel off the second sheet of plastic wrap and start pulling out the leaf. Most of it comes out easily, but as you can see in the photo, you may have to scrub a bit. Even though the concrete is dry, it needs to cure for a week, so wait to paint or add the water.

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Step five — Paint your leaf

To use your leaf as it is, just add a coat of concrete sealer, such as Thompson’s® Water Seal® or Drylock®, for protection. In the photo, I’m painting on several coats of a thin wash of acrylic paint. This wash was about three drops of paint to two cups of water. It dries quickly and you can begin another coat almost as soon as you finish the first. I’ve also used concrete dye, water color, oil and spray paint. Finish your painted leaf with a coat of sealer.


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