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5 Tips for Keeping a Great Rooftop Garden

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Rooftop and terrace gardens are a wonderful way to get a bit of green into an urban setting. Who says you have to live in the country or have a big house in suburbia to grow tons of plants and tasty vegetables? While it’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun, if you haven’t set up a rooftop garden before, there will be a few things that are new to you.

As long as you have a solid rooftop or terrace to work with, access to water, and hopefully an elevator or method of lifting heavy bags of soil and large pots up to your rooftop (you don’t want to break your back), you should be able to start growing your garden in a relatively short time. Here are a few tips to speed that process along:

Containers

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Ceramic, clay and terra cotta may look nice, but pots made from these materials can bake in the sun and are hard to work with in a confined space, plus they’re very likely to break. Pots made out of modern materials (polyurethane, for example) that are heavy enough to resist easy breakage and strong winds will do nicely.

Containers with pot feet (again, not terra cotta, if you can help it) for drainage should make the business of watering your plants even easier. You’ll also want to take into consideration the overall size of your containers when added together, combined with the soil, plants and the water you’ll be giving those plant to make them grow. Weight is an issue for rooftops, which we’ll get into next.

Know How to Make the Best Use of Your Space

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Not all rooftops and terraces are created equal. Before you get started with your rooftop garden, you should have a knowledgeable architect or builder make sure your roof or terrace can support the entire weight of the garden, plus you. You’ll also want to check for any leaky areas that could let water seep into whatever space happens to be below.

Before you dish out money for planters, look at the overall shape of your gardening area and think about what kind of containers would fit best—both ergonomically and aesthetically. Flip through some gardening magazines, or have a professional help you design and set up your space if you’re unsure.

Last but not least, make sure you have good access to water. Some rooftop areas already have a water spigot. You don’t want to be lugging buckets of water up and down stairs to give life to your plants, because all of that work will take the life out of you. Rainwater will only get you so far.

Great Soil

Since you’re not just digging up space in your backyard and using the soil already there, you’ll have a great deal of control over the soil used for your rooftop garden, as well as the fertilizer. You can opt for store-bought soil mixes, or if you have a bit of expertise (or are willing to educate yourself), you can put together your own soil mixes, combining compost, peat moss, perlite or vermiculite. If you opt for a mix, premium brands, which do cost more, should give you the best results.

Even with great soil at your disposal, you’ll still have to add fertilizer to replenish the soil once or twice a month, depending on how fast the plants you’ve selected are growing. There are a lot of different fertilizers on the market. Once you know exactly what sort of container garden you’ll be managing, you can get a better handle of the types of fertilizers that will suit your plants and growing conditions best.

Protect Against Mother Nature

Birds, too much direct sun, and gusts of wind are just a few of the things Mother Nature will throw at your terrace garden. We’ve already talked about having durable pots that can stand up to a sudden breeze. Each garden will have to be judged individually, but if frequent visits from neighborhood birds are a problem, or scorching heat pouring down from the sun is roasting your greenery, you’ll need to take a few steps to protect your plants.

Adding shaded areas with tarps, permanent structures (bamboo trellises) or even larger, shade-giving plants can reduce the amount of sun falling on your garden. Bird netting, installed in prime locations, can also help you thwart off the attention of pesky birds. The need for netting is even greater if you’re growing fruits or vegetables.

Your Plants

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You can grow almost anything you like on your rooftop garden, but it’s important to remember that there will probably be a lot of direct sunlight up there, and limited space. First of all, you’ll have to decide if this is a garden for show, or if you actually want to eat the “fruits” of your labors. Wind-tolerant plants that can take a lot of heat and light are always a good choice. And you probably don’t want to go with anything too large, unless you’re absolutely sure the roof or terrace you’re working from is rock solid, and can take a lot of extra weight.

There are plenty of guides online that can give you some ideas about what to plant, and what not to. Regards, after some experimenting, you’ll be able to figure out what works best for you and your particular garden.

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