Creating a copper patina fast!

In yesterday's post about the vines, I showed a photo of a copper pipe trellis I created that has what I consider to be a really attractive patina (the look the surface acquires due to exposure or time). I think most people know that copper will eventually age to a blue-green color when exposed to the weather, but that process takes time.

Most gardeners -- myself included -- don't like to wait decades for changes to happen, so today I'm going to show you how to achieve this beautiful look in just a day or two, with only a few minutes of work.


There are only three ingredients required. The first is copper. I'm using a scrap of pipe for this demonstration, but any copper that doesn't have a varnish on it will work. Here's a comparison of the "before" and "after":

This may work on bronze and other expensive metals too, but copper is all I've tried it on.

The second ingredient you'll need is probably something you have already: Miracle-Gro fertilizer.

I was already mixing up some of this solution to feed my potted plants, which reminded me that I have been meaning to do this little patina tutorial for a while.

The third ingredient is water.  Copper, Miracle-Gro, water. That's it!

How much water and Miracle-Gro do you need to use?

Well, since I had the regular-strength solution made up already, I dipped the pipe into it to see what would happen:

What happened was nothing. The solution when mixed as instructed on the package (for feeding plants) is much too weak.

You need to make a much stronger solution. I used a spoonful of crystals and then added just enough water to dissolve it. I would guess maybe a one part crystals to three parts water ratio is what you want, but it's not that critical.

You then want to apply the solution to the copper. When I did this to the trellis I believe I used a spray bottle, but I suppose you can use a brush, a rag or any other method. In this example I just poured the solution onto the pipe:

Note that the solution removed the tarnish from the copper. This tells me that it's strong enough.

(Warning: it's much, much too strong to use on plants. If you have any solution left, dilute it with more water before using it!)

Also note that I didn't stir enough to let the Miracle-Gro dissolve completely, so some crystals are stuck to the pipe. This isn't required, but can add a bit more texture to the finish. One thing that is important is to apply the solution unevenly. You don't have to leave bare spots like I did, but the finish is much more interesting if it's not uniform, so be sloppy!

After only 10 minutes you can see something starting to happen:

Then another 30 minutes or so later, things are really coming along:

You should only need a single application of the solution, but you can do more than one if you want. I suggest giving each application 30 minutes or so to react with the metal before applying the next. Maybe longer -- you may want to experiment a little.

24 hours later, it's getting even more interesting:

I'm not sure how long the reactions will continue, but it seems like a few days at least from what I can remember.

This one is three or four years old, and looks a bit more natural as it has mellowed a bit over time. I love the way it looks!

It's a simple process with beautiful results, don't you agree?


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Owen  – (July 24, 2011 at 8:25 AM)  

This post reminds me of Andy Warhol's oxidation paintings, though the source of the corrosive agent is a bit different... Either way, pretty :)

Cat  – (July 24, 2011 at 9:55 AM)  

Yes, I completely agree! Beautiful results!

Gerhard Bock  – (July 24, 2011 at 12:28 PM)  

This is awesome! I've got to try this. I do have some cooper pipes left from a bean teepee. Thank you for the inspiration and above all, the recipe :-).

Anonymous –   – (October 23, 2011 at 9:25 AM)  

A little word of caution. My father recently had a bad gas leak in his house caused by a box of miracle gro which had eaten a hole the size of a 50 p coin in the 22mm main gas pipe. lesson don't store the fertiliser next to copper pipes.

Stiletto  – (January 2, 2013 at 12:22 AM)  

I think over here in the tropics, natural oxidation process is pretty fast.

Anonymous –   – (October 28, 2015 at 5:18 PM)  

FYI I just tried this with the red Miracle Gro for vegetables and it didn't work. I tried again with the regular Miracle Gro and it worked wonderfully!! So easy.

Alan  – (October 29, 2015 at 7:04 AM)  

First Anon: Was the Miracle-Gro bag actually touching the pipe, or just near it?

Second Anon: good to know about the red type -- I didn't even know there was a red type!

Anna K  – (February 24, 2016 at 10:47 AM)  

Very cool! And how timely that I would stumble upon this post! Just yesterday, I was looking at an exceptionally shiny copper fountain, wondering how long it would take to mellow it out a bit. And, now I know. Thank you so much for that. I wonder if it is all the salts in the Miracle Grow that enable it to happen so fast...

Anonymous –   – (July 29, 2016 at 11:00 AM)  

I'm so glad I found you and that you posted your detailed results. I have some copper window screening that I want to distress so this is wonderful.

Mike F  – (February 20, 2018 at 2:49 PM)  

Ok, you can buy copper powder, use waterproof pva glue & sprinkle the copper powder onto the item. Then get a mix of vinegar & salt, spray it on, a patina is created in 24 hours.(green) if you want blue use ammonia spray as well. If you wish you can use a variety of metal powders which sprayed with vinegar & salt has an amazing reaction. Iron is great if you want that rust look. Note you need to use the glue then dust on & leave, I tried mixing it with the glue but basically it gets sealed that way. When happy spray a mat or gloss lacquer to seal it, or maybe some more pva.

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