Want to grow a rooftop garden? Here’s how to get started.

Every garden presents its own unique set of challenges. This time-honored gardening principle is especially true for those who garden on rooftops.

In cities across the world, gardeners find their plans limited by a lack of space. Charming as they are, balconies and window boxes simply don’t offer the possibilities of a backyard rockery.

Increasingly, however, urban plant lovers are finding ways around spatial constraints by growing gardens on rooftops.

If you happen to be a green-thumbed urban dweller running out of room, then things just might be looking up for you, too, literally.

Urban dwellers are finding ways to expand their gardening spaces.
Urban dwellers are finding ways to expand their gardening spaces.

How to Start a Rooftop Garden

Rooftop gardens have become all the rage in crowded, built-up cities like New York, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. The reasons are obvious. Apart from allowing you to expand your gardening landscape, rooftop gardens are an excellent way to raise food in unused – and wasted – space.

Below are a few pointers on starting a rooftop garden of your own.

1. Find out about relevant city ordinances and homeowner regulations.

Find out what local ordinances, rental property rules, and home owner association guidelines say about rooftop gardens. Some cities prohibit or restrict growing gardens on rooftops. Or your homeowners’ association may require special permission.

You don’t want to spend time and money on a rooftop garden only to have it dismantled by a disapproving landlord or municipal worker.

You don’t want to spend time and money on a rooftop garden only to have it dismantled by a disapproving landlord or municipal worker.
You don’t want to spend time and money on a rooftop garden only to have it dismantled by a disapproving landlord or municipal worker.

2. Evaluate your roof’s integrity and loading capacity.

This step will likely entail your biggest expense. You’ll need to determine whether your roof is sturdy enough to support a garden. Contact a structural engineer.

Discuss what you intend to design. For this, you’ll need an initial plan of your garden. The engineer will then evaluate your roof’s loading capacity against your proposal.

You’ll need to determine whether your roof is sturdy enough to support a garden.
You’ll need to determine whether your roof is sturdy enough to support a garden.

In accomplishing the task, a professional engineer will take into account planter boxes, soil, and possible water storage. The weight of crops at maturity, equipment, furniture, and temporary loads like people and snow will also matter.

Depending on your plans and the integrity of the rooftop, you may need to install girders to buttress the roof.

3. Remember that high winds will be a factor.

Your rooftop garden will be considerably windier than gardens on the ground. You will probably need to integrate windbreaks into the garden design. Consider using trellises or some other latticed windbreak for your high-rise rockery rather than walls.

Windbreaks that interrupt and break the flow of the wind – rather than stopping it completely- are actually better, according to Gardening Know-How. Solid windbreaks are likely to be knocked down by the occasional strong wind.

Your rooftop garden will be considerably windier than gardens on the ground.
Your rooftop garden will be considerably windier than gardens on the ground.

You don’t want to eliminate wind flow entirely. That would be bad for your plants. You just want to decrease the velocity of the winds blowing across your garden.

4. Plan how you’ll get water to your garden.

You should think about how you will get water to your rooftop garden. Will you be able to run a hose to the roof? Remember, you will need to water your rooftop garden frequently in hot weather.

Lugging heavy buckets of water up and down flights of stairs is both difficult and impractical. Consider installing a water storage system, rain barrels, or a full-blown drip irrigation system for your garden.

You will need to water your rooftop garden frequently in hot weather.
You will need to water your rooftop garden frequently in hot weather.
(Photo: Christopher Porter/Flickr)

Growing Your Own Rooftop Garden

Gardeners are constantly looking to expand their landscapes. No matter how much land is at our disposal, we always seem to be looking for more space. That’s why rooftop gardens of all kinds are gaining popularity in both residential and commercial sites around the world.

City dwellers have been growing plants on roofs and fire escapes for generations.
City dwellers have been growing plants on roofs and fire escapes for generations.
(Photo: Molly Holzschlag /Flickr)

Given sundry city regulations and ordinances, growing a rooftop garden may demand a little more work than street-level backyard gardening. But rooftop gardeners will tell you it’s worth the trouble.

Close Menu
Close Panel