Rooftop Garden Tips for City Dwellers With a Green Thumb

Gardening is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and add a few fresh foods to your meals. However, when many people imagine themselves gardening, they envision sprawling acres filled with rows upon rows of manicured plants. If you’re lacking in acreage, a rooftop garden can be the perfect way to flex your green thumb without moving out of the city.

Rooftop Garden Tips

Before you get started building a garden on your roof, here are a few important considerations to keep in mind.

  • Roof Rights: Most people who live in the city don’t actually own their own roof. Apartment buildings and multifamily houses are common, and you need to make sure whoever owns the roof is OK with your ambitious garden ideas. Check with your landlord, condo organization or building superintendent to find out what you’re allowed to do.
  • Sun and Heat Levels: Most rooftops get plenty of sunshine, but it’s always possible that yours is shaded by neighboring buildings. Make sure you take note of the sunniest locations so you can place your heat-tolerant plants in those spots. For a simple tool to assess this, invest in a sun meter.
  • Water Supply and Drainage: During the heat of the summer, make sure to water your rooftop garden daily. And you don’t want to lug buckets of water up to a roof to give your plants a drink, so make sure there’s a handy source of water nearby and that the resulting puddles will drain easily. Consider placing a rain barrel on your roof in addition to rubber mats or wood decking to tackle wet surfaces.
  • Wind Buffers: Some rooftops may be extra-windy, which won’t end well for tall plants like snow peas and sunflowers. Consider building a trellis to help protect your plants from blustery days. If this isn’t an option, you can start with low-growing plants that are less vulnerable to large gusts.
  • Soil and Planters: When it comes to actually growing plants on your roof, make sure you pick the right soil and containers. You’ll need a soil that’s light and retains moisture. Choose a container mix, available at most garden supply stores, that contains things like sphagnum, perlite and vermiculite. This type of mixture will be lighter than garden soil, retain moisture and provide aeration.

Also, keep in mind that you’ll need to carry your garden planters up to the roof. A heavy material like terra-cotta may be a more sustainable option compared to plastic, but hauling it will be a workout. Wood can be a helpful alternative if your back is getting tired. If you’re working on a limited budget, repurpose some old children’s wading pools, plastic buckets or recycling bins — simply drill some holes in the bottom for drainage. These are all lightweight and relatively inexpensive.

Optimal Plants for Rooftop Gardens

Depending on your sunlight conditions and the amount of space you have available, there are certain plants that will be more productive in rooftop gardens than others. Make sure you read the tag that comes with each of your seed packets or garden plants. They’ll provide an estimate on how large the plant will grow and whether it will do well in a container garden.

If you’re planning on growing a food garden, many herbs grow quite well in containers. Consider planting vegetables like bush-variety tomatoes, assorted types of peppers, low-lying greens like spinach and lettuce, snow peas or pole beans. Many fruits and vegetables are annuals so you can try new varieties every year. Stay away from most root vegetables like carrots and beets, which need deep soil in order to thrive.

To attract pollinators to your garden, plant colorful flowers in addition to your edible plants. Planting an ornamental garden, rather than an edible one? Stick to small trees and shrubs, and add color with assorted flowering plants. And while you’re at it, make a compost corner for your scraps so the whole setup is sustainable.

While it may take a little bit of extra planning, a rooftop garden can be a great hobby and a fun way to grow your own food.

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