Designing a Rooftop Garden

This is a guest post by Mike.

Rooftop gardens are a fantastic way to take advantage of that otherwise useless space, creating something that’s both aesthetic, eco-friendly and functional. And the good news is that they’re relatively simple to setup. Here are some tips, tricks and considerations you should take into account when designing your rooftop garden.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is find out if your building allows for a rooftop garden. The added weight on certain structures, as well as some city ordinances, might prevent you from building a garden into your roof. Once that’s approved, you should consult with an architect or contractor to see just what kind of garden your roof can support. There are two basic types of rooftop gardens, which are based around the depth of the soil: intensive rooftops require more than six inches of soil; and extensive, which require less. It’s important to know which kind of rooftop garden you can, or want to, have as it will affect your planting options. The extensive roofs are better for growing herbs, spices, moss and vegetables with shallower roots. Intensive can handle bigger items like shrubs and trees such as pear, peach and apple, which might make delicious additions to your garden. They can also help establish shade for your garden, if that’s something of interest for your design.

When designing your rooftop garden, make sure you take into account how you will be watering this garden. Many rooftops don’t have spigots available for hooking up a hose or filling a bucket, meaning that you’ll have to lug buckets up from your apartment. If you don’t have a spigot you can invest in some automatic sprinkling systems, which, even if you do have water available, will give you a much more balanced irrigation.

You should also plan on using the lightest soil you can, anything to help reduce weight and take some of the stress off the structure. For instance, use potting soil instead of the heavier dirt alternatives, and consider using light-weight pots and planting containers to their big ceramic counterparts.

The elements are going to be a bit different on your rooftop as opposed to your backyard: the wind will beat harder; the sun may be more intense, reflected off so many glass buildings. There’s also the possibility you’ll have less sun depending on other building’s obstructions, meaning you’ll need to supplement your garden with some UV grow lights. To cut down on the wind factor, install some windbreaks into your garden’s design, something permeable like lattice, trellises and fencing that will help disrupt and redirect the wind flow; this is especially important as winds at those velocities could rip out and ruin your garden.

When planting your garden, take into account the season you’re planting in and the estimated time of harvest; space out your planting accordingly as this will help prevent your garden from explosions of growth and allow you to maintain a more balanced production. You should also consider which plants are perennial and which will have to be replanted every year; depending on where you live, certain plants won’t need to be replaced yearly, but in cities with cold winters or frost, these plants will become damaged or dead and need to removed before the next planting season.

Your rooftop garden can be a relaxing refuge from the work day; it can be a source of natural and organic produce; it can be whatever you need it to be. Just make sure your building can handle the weight and logistics.

About the Author

Mike Zook has been writing about environmental topics for nearly a decade. His passions include alternative energy, organic gardening and wetland protection. Click here to learn more about MCP turbidity curtains.

Thank you to Mike for helping us keep this blog alive. We couldn’t do it without people like you.

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