Gardening Up High: A Guide to Rooftop Growing

By Shannon McKee
Published: July 29, 2020 | Last updated: April 22, 2021 10:43:26
Key Takeaways

Urban farming is increasing in popularity as people become more concerned with where their food comes from and how they can have a positive impact on the environment. One option for the space-challenged is to go up.

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Rooftop gardens are becoming more common these days, as an increasing number of people seek closer connections with their food and try to reduce their carbon footprints. Growing on the roof makes use of a space that’s not typically used for anything, helps insulate your home, offers a place to garden with good sun exposure, is protected from some pest animals like deer, and is in the perfect location to absorb rainwater, thereby reducing runoff.


Rooftop Gardens: Where to Start

While rooftop gardens offer plenty of benefits, there are some steps that need to be taken before you start. First off, determine if you are allowed to garden in this space. Contact your landlord if you do not own the property, and the city to see if there are any local building codes that prohibit this type of garden. Then you should have a professional examine your structure. Large, raised beds or multiple pots will put a lot of strain on your roof—you need to ensure it can handle the extra weight. You also need to determine how you will get gardening materials to the roof.

Read also: What to Plant on a Rooftop Garden


Rooftop Gardens: Watering and the Elements

Access to water is a must for your garden. Can you get a hose to the roof? You may want to add a rain barrel or two with some drip irrigation for your garden. The number of barrels needed depends on the size of your planned garden. You also have to consider drainage. Where is any excess water going to go?

A rooftop can be more exposed to the elements, so it is a good idea to create some shade for you and your plants from the heat and sun. Even plants that thrive in full sun may suffer from the urban heat island effect. A fence could act as a wind break, along with adding some privacy.


You’ll also need to ensure you have a place to store pots, nutrients and other gardening materials. This can be as simple as a few shelves or as elaborate as a greenhouse or shed, depending on the weather in your city. If you’re in an area with cold winters, you need a plan to protect your raised beds, perennials and other aspects of your garden, so your storage area should be big enough to accommodate tarps, burlap, hay and other things needed to winterize your garden.


Materials and Plants

To avoid putting too much pressure on your rooftop, you may want to consider using a growing media that is lighter than ordinary garden soil. Compost and recycled materials are great places to start. You will want to use enough material in your planters or raised beds to allow plant roots to take a sturdy hold. Consider adding supports for some plants if you are in a windy area.

Read also: 4 Major Cities Where Rooftop Bus Gardens Have Sprouted Up


Some types of plants may grow better than others in your rooftop environment. Herbs, shrubs, flowers, vegetables and fruits are all great choices for your rooftop garden, with a little planning. For instance, if you love carrots, choose short varieties that will grow better in a container environment. Also, you may want to invest in drought-resistant plants, as they may be better adapted to deal with rooftop conditions. Experimentation will help you determine what works and what doesn’t on your rooftop.

Even if your budget doesn’t allow for your dream rooftop garden, you can start small and add on as you go. Create little goals to work towards building your dream oasis. Drawing up a diagram is a good place to start. Rooftop gardens are a beautiful addition to any space. They offer a wonderful space for growing flowers, herbs, shrubs, fruits, and vegetables. This type of garden can be a lovely blessing for anyone who wants their own little rooftop oasis.


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Written by Shannon McKee | Freelance Writer, Gardener

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Shannon McKee lives in Ohio and has been a freelance writer for several years now, including on her blog, Nicknamed by loved ones a garden hoarder over the past few years, she grows a wide variety of plants in her urban garden.

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