How to Get Started with a Rooftop Garden

It’s time. There’s a perfectly good rooftop up there above you and a garden is a stellar choice. Did you know that in America right now there’s a rooftop renaissance going on, especially in the big cities? Tis true! I mean hey, when you can’t go with a typically front/back yard garden you’ve got to go vertical.

In this article we’re going to look at the most effective way to get started with your rooftop garden. There’s some things to consider that in your excitement and haste you may neglect. We don’t want that. You don’t want that. So let’s begin.

How to Get Started with a Rooftop Garden

The Initial Strategy Session

Right, so the very first key to success is this: plan big…start small. In other words, take the time to design as much use as you want, but begin your garden with a little patch. Or, you could just begin with a few 3-gallon buckets; maybe something the size of a typical kid’s playground sandbox. Let’s talk about considerations:

  • Your Safety:

Okay, you shouldn’t be standing on a ledge to water the garden. And, nothing should be blowing off the roof and endangering innocents strolling down below. Everything needs to be completely secured and you may need to obtain some official permits as well. It’s best to check with your local department of buildings.

  • The Total Weight:

You’ve got to consider the weight of you when you’re up there plus the containers, the plants themselves, the soil and the water. It adds up fast. What if it snows this coming winter and there’s a few inches/feet of snow on top? What about a heavy torrential rain? Consult a professional who knows the building and ensure that you aren’t going to accidently cause any structural damage or worse.

Choosing Your Containers

Don’t worry, you’ve only got the birds to worry about really. Most buildings are going to be out of the way of other garden pests. And, you’re not going to have to worry as much about sun exposure ideally. All roofs are a bit different. Now, when choosing containers the sky’s the limit but here’s a basic principle:

  • Go Flat:

Longer, thinner specialty planting containers that comes with enough soil-space and drainage are going to be your best bet. You can begin with three or four of them to get your garden started.

If you’re looking for inspiration here’s a link to a ton of visually stunning rooftop gardens from Google, and here’s more amateur rooftop gardens from Pinterest. All of those began small and grew or evolved over time. Remember that.

Choosing Your Plants

The first thing to consider is what the overall use of your garden will be. What’s the solution that it’s meant to provide? Are you after supplemental carbs by growing fruits, veggies and berries? Are you looking to create a medicinal herb garden? Or, do you envision it to be a retreat or plant-sanctuary?

This is important. It’s the central theme and without that you’re basically just winging it. Don’t wing it on a roof. You’re going to have to balance your needs with the total amount of extra weight you have available. I mean, trees and bushes weigh far more than herbs and tomatoes plants. Also, some plants require far more soil than others do, and water. Let the weight-baring load be your guide.

How You Gonna Water It?

This can be a bit challenging when you think about it. Maybe not as much for rural folk and city dwellers. Imagine trying to run a hose up a 10-story building. How are you going to water it? These days you can’t count on rain…just look at the unprecedented dry spell that hit California this year. How were all those L.A. rooftop gardens getting watered?

You’re going to have to plan this out. Will you need perhaps a rain barrel or two with a drip irrigation system? Yes, collect rain water but there’s going to need to be an alternative besides you carrying buckets up there a couple times a day.

Budget Big, Spend Small

In the beginning you’re not likely to need to spend much. But, remember to plan for the big picture a year or two down the road. What’s the estimated total cost? Are you planning on getting artsy and landscaping up there? Will you be laying special tiles, creating stone gardens, special furniture and raised gardens? What about LED grow lights to provide light during the night?

You see, the first part of a rooftop garden is like any other garden…plan, plan, plan. With roofs though you have to consider the weight, which helps keep you corralled in the possible. Take it easy and enjoy the journey!

Ali Asjad is a content strategist based in Stockholm, Sweden. He helps companies in vast and varied verticals be more successful and visible online. Circle him on Google+ to further the conversation.