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I'm planning to sell small pots and as part of my display I'd like to "plant" fake plants in some of them. I'd like it to look as real as possible, so my goal is to have the plant "growing" out of a solid block of what looks like soil. I'd like to be able to grab the plant and lift it out along with the attached soil bottom then plunk the whole thing into a new pot as I sell them.

I'm not sure exactly how to make the dirt bulb for the plant. I was thinking of molding it by pouring something granular (granulated + dyed cork maybe?) and glue or resin into a sacrificial Tupperware of similar size to my pots, sticking the plant in and letting it dry. The only thing I'm worried about is making sure the whole things stays in shape without crumbling once it's out of the Tupperware. Any suggestions on fake dirt materials and/or glues to use?

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Why not use real dirt?
You can buy (or find) potting soil quite easily, which is relatively 'clean'.

An alternative is coffee grounds. To make it as dark as regular soil, you can add a little black ink to it and mix it with water.

In both cases it's best to let it dry first, then mix it with the resin or (maybe slightly watered down) glue inside a Tupperware container or a paper cup, which is both easier to cut away and less wasteful.

The resin or glue has to be waterproof (in case the plant accidentally gets watered), transparent (to let the (fake) dirt steal the show), hard curing (to keep everything properly in place), and preferably matte drying (since glossy dirt will look unrealistically wet or muddy).
Many resins and glues can be used for this - even wood glue, for example, will work fine. Visit your nearest hardware store, and look around or ask someone.

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    I hadn't considered using real potting soil, but now that you mention it I'll be able to get my hands on that a lot faster than some other materials. I'll test it out this weekend and let everyone know! Feb 28 '20 at 17:34
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    I tested this out with 4 different possible glues in little Jell-O cups but I don't have the results yet as they take a very long time to dry! There wasn't any resin which might set a lot faster. Anyway I will mark this question answered for now. Thank you! Mar 3 '20 at 16:08
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Model train enthusiasts have to be creative to get the results they desire. Some of them can be really demanding, so I jumped out on the 'net to see how they do it.

One site, cs.trains.com suggests using powdered paint from Crayola:

I recently bought some "Crayola Powder Paint", available in local craft stores or on-line from places like the following:

http://www.misterart.com/g1306/Crayola-Powder-Paint.htm

I mixed black and brown in equal amounts into an empty "spice shaker". You know, the shakers that come loaded with paprika, oregano, etc. that have small holes on top for shaking out the spices. I spread my 50/50 mixture of Elmer's White Glue and water like I always do for scenicing an area and then shook on the Crayola Powder Paint. Before it dried, I added the usual other textures, using Woodland Scenics different light and coarse materials. When the area dried, I had what looked like real dirt. And, it was flat, like real dirt, without the "loft" I mentioned before. I also used this stuff to sprinkle over already-sceniced areas to blend colors together. This stuff is cheap and could scenic a lot of area.

I think I'm going to buy some other colors, like red, yellow and green and obviously could make a whole assortment of different color ground cover by varying the amounts of each color in the mix.

The link is broken, but searching for the product brought up a number of links to purchase powdered tempera paint, which appears to be the same stuff.

If you can't get good dirt from a train layout maker, where can you get it?

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  • Model railway types also use powdered cork, which works well. Note though that they're trying to get scaled down dirt; I'm not sure if the OP is. This is still a good suggestion, especially the part about applying it on top of the glue, so +1, but in the OP's case I'd be worried about colour transfer from the paint to anything damp, or by friction; that's not something railway builders are so concerned about - as a result I'd lean towards a non-soluble powder, and give it a good brush and a sponge down after the glue has dried
    – Chris H
    Feb 28 '20 at 9:21
  • Yeah unfortunately this will get moved around and handled a lot more than I think most models do. This will probably be a really great solutions for something that was just going to be stationary though, so I'll keep your suggestion in mind for future projects. Feb 28 '20 at 17:36

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