Beginner's Guide to Rooftop Gardening

By Renee Gerber , last updated May 17, 2011

Rooftop gardening is a great idea for anyone who lives in an apartment rather than a private house. It enables you to do your own gardening in growing plants outdoors and also serves another purpose in benefiting the environment. Urban areas are typically not as widely populated with plants, so creating your own garden on your terrace in an apartment building creates a green environment -- in more ways than one! If you live in an apartment and would like to create your own rooftop garden, you will need a few good, helpful tips to get you started.

Before you begin visiting your local nursery and buying many different plant varieties, you will have to first and foremost decide whether your rooftop, or terrace, area can hold a garden. After all, you aren't planning on putting a mere two or three plants out there, as that would not make an actual garden. If you stand outside in the area and turn completely around in circles to survey it, you can probably make a good, educated guess as to whether or not the environment is stable enough for the job.

In addition to sturdiness, you must also ensure that the roof or terrace has sufficient drainage and even possibly a slope. A rooftop garden requires good drainage, because the plants will obviously not be buried in the ground, and too much water will not only drown them and cause root rot, it can also weigh down your building, which is a very scary thought! Also, you must properly waterproof the area as well. This is absolutely essential when you are planning on building a rooftop garden. The area should be adequately waterproofed so that you can avoid the leakage of rainwater as well as that which you administer to your plants. This will surely spare you a lot of headaches that involve your neighbors suffering water damage and complaining to the building super.

If you are sure your rooftop can physically handle an actual garden, go ahead with waterproofing the area. Once that is completed, you can move on to the next important step in beginning your garden, which is to create a layout plan.

Layout plans are extremely important when you are planning to create a rooftop garden. This should consist of a good balance of various types of plants, including grass, small trees, shrubs and ground covering bushes. As an optional step, you can also include other popular garden features, such as a garden pond, rock garden, gazebo, or some other items. This is to give you a good, general idea of what to look for when you do your shopping for garden items, and helps you to better prepare.

With the layout done, your next step will be to make a trip to a local nursery or home improvement store to select the plants for your rooftop garden. However, due to the special circumstances over the fact that you are not creating a standard garden, you cannot simply buy whatever plants you see that are to your liking. You must limit your purchases to only plants that have a fibrous root system. This means you must absolutely avoid those that consist of a tap root system. This is because those types of plants can easily end up growing right through the roof or terrace and potentially destroy the building's structure. Make sure to speak to someone at the store, if necessary, and explain what you are planning to do. They will be sure to direct you to the right selection of plants.

Once you have your plants, the next thing you should do is to plant soil for your garden. Make sure to obtain a mixture of peat moss, manure or soil rite, as this is cost effective. Afterward, you should lay down brickbats evenly across the roof in increments of about two to four inches. You should only use bricks that are completely burnt, as these can withstand the effects of different weather conditions expected. Regular bricks will, over time, break down to the point of mud after a few years, which can hinder proper drainage of water. Add a wire mesh over the bricks as well.

Create the drainage areas throughout the rooftop area, including pipes in appropriate spots so that water can be easily drained off of the building. Once your garden is completely up and running, it will help to conceal these items.

Finally, you can begin to plant your fibrously rooted small trees, shrubs, low cover bushes and other plants.

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