While many of us dream of having a huge backyard that can accommodate a generously sized garden, that simply isn’t a reality for most urban dwellers.
Property owners are getting creative when it comes to outdoor spaces—they’re simply looking up at unused rooftops, which get plenty of fresh air and sunlight. If you dream of home grown salads and fresh blooms, then you just might want to start budgeting for your own sky-high garden plot. Here’s what you’ll need to make a rooftop garden happen.
Maybe you’ve heard nightmare-inducing stories that have scared you away from building a rooftop garden—roofs collapsing under the weight of soil, water damage caused from leaking plants, etc.
To avoid these problems, hire a structural engineer to fill you in on the details pertaining to your particular roof. (If you’re renting, make sure your landlord consents to the changes!) A professional can show you how to mitigate issues (for example, by moving the placement of your planned garden) and can check that your roof can accommodate the level of support and waterproof-ness needed to have a rooftop garden. This one-time expense is money well spent.
When it comes to planters, you have several options. You might choose to build your own planter boxes out of lumber, you might choose to use grow bags, or you might do as many others have done and use something you already have lying around the house (plastic kiddie pool, anyone?).
For a quick and easy solution, check out your local gardening center or a garden specialty website. They sell ready-made roof planters that are lightweight, offer plenty of depth, and look polished.
Soil is the key ingredient of your rooftop garden. To help your garden grow, soil needs to strike the perfect balance of permeability and water retention. Grain size distribution, pH content, nutrients, and density are a few other factors to consider. Look for soil that is specifically meant to be used for green roofs: Green roof soil is lightweight, putting minimal pressure on the roof structure.
The quantity of soil that you will need will depend on the size of your rooftop garden. You typically want at least 8 to 10 inches of depth, and the length and width will be determined in part by the space available to you. Note that the exact cost of the soil will vary from location to location.
Seeds, seedlings and plants
Research will guide you toward the perfect plant assortment for your rooftop garden. Consider the amount of sunlight your rooftop gets (tomatoes, for example, need plenty of sunlight every day) and the depth of your planters (root vegetables like carrots and radishes need lots of deep soil to grow). Wind and humidity will also play a role in your success with certain plant types. Generally speaking, herbs, peas, beans, kale, spinach, and lettuces tend to work well in most rooftop gardens.
Even the most amateur gardener knows that plants need plenty of water to survive. You’re going to need a plan to ensure easy water access from the rooftop—and believe us, repeatedly lugging watering cans up to your roof will get old fast.
Your watering system may be as easy as connecting a hose that leads up to the rooftop, or it can be as complex as installing a new water storage system for your rooftop.
The higher you go, the windier it gets—so it’s safe to say that your urban rooftop garden will sustain more wind than a garden at ground level. To prevent your plants from toppling over in the wind, install some windbreakers. A trellis is a good option, as it breaks up the wind while still letting it pass through. Opting for a solid windbreak won’t get you far—the wind will probably knock it over instantly.
At the very least, you should pick up a pair of gardening gloves, a hand shovel or trowel, and a rake for your rooftop garden toolkit. These will come in handy when keeping your soil in good shape and planting your garden seeds.
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