Start a Rooftop Garden: Tips and Tricks for Rooftop Gardening

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Starting a rooftop garden is especially popular with people who live on small acreage or in apartment buildings. The idea is simple and time proven yet provides multiple benefits. People have been tucking away plants on rooftops and fire escape stairways for many years.  Rooftop gardens are even growing in urban places like NYC. Rooftop gardening works and is an efficient use of space.  In this article, you’ll find everything that you need to know about rooftop gardens including how to build one yourself.

Benefits of Roof Top Gardens

First perhaps, the greatest benefit of a rooftop garden is that you are creating a food source for yourself, family, friends or community. Rooftop gardens use spaces that would otherwise just be used as shelter tops for buildings. In that small rooftop space, a large amount of healthy and even organically grown food can be produced. The second benefit of a rooftop garden is that it helps with climate control of the building.  Rooftop gardens can provide great insulation.  The garden will retain heat in the winter and keep the building cooler in the summer.  This benefit alone will help lower heating and air conditioning expenses. The third benefit of a rooftop garden is that the garden effectively utilizes rainwater.  The water is used directly onto the plants without having to store it first.  Rooftop gardens make the most of a free resource.  After the water is used up, it is returned to the atmosphere by evaporation.  Much of the water is also retained inside the plants and it’s fruit that are grown into food. The fourth benefit of rooftop gardens is the environmental impact that they have on air quality.  Urban areas are often plagued by bad air quality caused by pollution.  Plants can help reverse this problem. Rooftop gardens are becoming increasingly popular in big cities for smog issues. A fifth and often overlooked benefit of a rooftop garden is the positive psychological benefits that it has on the gardener.  People who garden often report a state of improved emotional well-being.  Rooftop gardens offer a natural release of tension in an otherwise urbanized location. The sixth benefit of rooftop gardening is that you don’t have to deal with deer and other garden pests eating your plants down. Unless Santa’s reindeer come by for a nibble you don’t have to the put time and expense into building elaborate fences.  Cats also shouldn’t be able to find a way into your rooftop garden.  Cats at ground level gardens are often a problem because they defecate on and around edible plants.

How To Start A Rooftop Garden

Now that we know the benefits of a rooftop garden, let’s get started on making the plans to build your own.  There are some things to consider first, plans to make, materials to gather, and tasks to carry out. When the work of getting your rooftop garden is completed, soon you will be enjoying the benefits mentioned above.  But it pays to put in the time to plan and research.  Hopefully, this article will help greatly with the planning stage.

Get Permission

Before heading out to your hardware store and greenhouse make sure to ask your landlord if a rooftop garden is permissible.  They may need to follow a building code.  Depending on how big and elaborate you are planning to make your rooftop garden, it may add a substantial amount of weight to the building.  Make sure that all safety and building codes are met.  Some codes may allow for a rooftop garden but put restrictions on how high it can be.

Water Supply

Think about how you are going to get water up to your plants.  Is there a rooftop water hydrant or will you need to carry containers of water up there to water your plants?  Can you install a rain barrel or use drip irrigation?  These are all things to consider.  Your water supply is going to be one of the biggest factors in the success of your garden.

Sun Exposure

Evaluate how much sun your plants will get on the roof.  Is the roof in full sun or is it partially shaded by the building or other buildings or trees nearby?  How much sun exposure your rooftop garden will get will also help you to determine what types of plants to grow.

Wind Exposure

What is the wind normally like in the area where you will have your rooftop garden?  Some plants will not do well in the wind while others are more wind hardy.  You may want to consider installing some type of wind barriers such as a fence or wall.  Again it will be important to check your building code and with the owner of the building.  If you own the building make sure to consider all safety hazards with building onto an existing roof.


With gardens come lots of equipment.  Though some tools you will need are small hand tools like shovels and rakes, it all adds up quickly when trying to store it all.  You may need buckets too and hoses.  Think about where you are going to store all of the gardening tools.  Some rooftop gardeners like to build a storage unit or shelving close to where the garden will be.  A bench type of seating with a built-in storage unit may work great.   The closer your storage is to your garden the better.  Otherwise, you will be dragging tools and equipment with you, possibly on a daily basis.

Create a Budget

Think about how much money you want to spend on your rooftop garden construction.  Create a budget before starting.  The expense of it all can add up very quickly when you start purchasing containers, soil, fertilizer, furniture, and plants.  If you are building a structure like raised beds or storage areas, it will add up even quicker.  It’s best to start with a budget so you don’t get surprised mid-project.  It’s better to start small the first year than to be halfway into it and realize you are running out of money for your project.

Map Out Your Garden Design

Use paper to map out your garden design.  Graph paper works great for this assignment.  Sketch and plot out where you want everything to go.  You don’t have to plan for each set of plants, but you should decide where you’d like your furniture or storage areas and where you’d like your plants to go.  This will help you stay organized.  It’s easier to change something around than to run out of room from not planning it out.  Make sure to use your measuring tape.  A chalk line can also prove to be a valuable resource when mapping out and measuring your rooftop garden area.

Get Your Garden Containers

If you are buying your own containers or making a raised bed, now is the time to do it.  Your local Walmart or department store should have a variety of planters to choose from.  For an aesthetic quality, you may want to use a variety of colors and shapes when choosing pots.

Get Your Garden Plants

If you are starting your plants from seed you may want to put this step up a few steps.  This is especially true if you are using a window to grow your seedlings.  A quicker way is to visit a local greenhouse or local store that sells plants and purchase packs of them.  In general, the younger the plants are when purchased the cheaper they will be. For example, a 3-inch tall tomato plant will cost less than a 12-inch tall tomato plant.  Plan ahead and use seeds or buy seedlings if you are looking to cut expenses. Ornamental grasses, magnolias, tomatoes, and honeysuckles do well in sunny and hot temperatures.  Keep in mind that large plants like shrubs and small trees will weigh down your roof.  Stay within the building code restrictions when thinking about how big your plants will grow to be.  Be careful with wide leaf plants.  They tend to not do as well in windy rooftop conditions.

Get Your Soil

Before planting, you are obviously going to want to get your soil.  Make sure to research and use the proper type of soil and fertilizer for the plants that you are trying to grow.  If you are using a container system, you can have different types of soils and fertilizers.  This is a benefit of a container system. You may want to contact your local agricultural office before purchasing fertilizer.  Many farms will most likely let you have free or low cost manure for fertilizer.  You can also purchase fertilizer at a local greenhouse, Walmart, department store, or Tractor Supply type of store.

Time To Plant Your Rooftop Garden

Planting is when everything starts to really materialize.  If this is your first year of experimenting with a rooftop garden, you may want to have a wide variety of plants to start off with.  That way if one type of plant does not do well, or doesn’t sprout (if you are starting from seed) or dies (if you purchase seedling) all will not be lost. Make sure to plant seedlings at the proper depth that is recommended on the package. Make sure to also follow directions for planting seedlings. Some plants such as tomatoes can be planted in a variety of ways.  Tomato plants can even be planted horizontally for a strong root system to take over.  If you are not sure how to plant each type, ask the people that you bought the plants as to what they recommend.

Continue to Water

Make sure to not skip a watering session.  This will be especially important for young plants.  Remember that rooftops can collect a lot of heat and hence dry out your little plants.  Water regularly and water even more often in hot, windy or drought conditions.

Add Lightweight Furniture

Chances are you may want to relax in your garden and enjoy the atmosphere.  Think about adding some lightweight furniture.  By adding furniture that doesn’t weigh a lot, you won’t be adding to the weight on your roof.  Consider furniture that folds up such as lounge chairs.  That way you can fold up the furniture and put it away in a storage section so it doesn’t blow away should the weather become windy.

Can Cyclamen Be Grown in a Rooftop Garden?

Can cyclamen be grown in a rooftop garden? Absolutely! With some growing cyclamen tips and tricks, you can successfully cultivate these beautiful flowering plants even in limited space. Ensure the rooftop garden receives adequate sunlight, provide well-draining soil, and don’t forget regular watering. Before you know it, your rooftop garden will be blooming with vibrant cyclamen flowers.

Add Extras

While you wait for your plants to grow, you may want to add on some extras.  Birdhouses may just bring some wildlife to your rooftop.  What a cool thing to have a little oasis for wildlife in a middle of a city on your very own rooftop.  The birds will benefit and so to will you by enjoying the companionship that they provide.  Birds also will add an element of beauty by adding in some bird songs to your rooftop garden area. Garden decorations can be added in according to your individual taste.  Remember to keep decorations both lightweight and also tacked down.  You don’t want your decorations to become a hazard by blowing off of your roof.  Windsocks and miniature windmills that can be firmly secured all make good choices for your rooftop garden.

Final Thoughts And Rooftop Gardening Tips

Visit photos online and in magazines of rooftop gardens.  If you are like me, photos can really motivate a project onward.  While researching to write this article I was impressed and inspired by all of the different possible designs for a rooftop garden.  If possible visit other rooftop gardens and talk to people who have successfully built and maintained a rooftop garden.  People who have accomplished this project firsthand will have valuable information to share with you. Ask a lot of questions. Get your plan ready, create your budget and go for it.  Don’t become intimidated and make sure to stay the course when things don’t work out exactly like you had planned.  Have a plan but be flexible.  And remember to have fun with this.  Soon you’ll be sitting up there on your rooftop enjoying your plants and the scenery.  Imagine having your first salad or meal all grown from your rooftop vegetable garden!  
1 comment
  1. A few of the people that live in my building and I are wanting to start a rooftop garden next spring but I am curious to know how we can make it great. I like how you mentioned that we might want to consider adding some extra things like a windmill to add a little bit of decoration to the place. I am also glad that you mentioned that if we get something like this that we need to make sure it can be secured firmly in the area so it won’t blow away.

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