How to Create a Roof Garden in NYC

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Creating a roof garden in NYC is an excellent way to cultivate a bit of personal green space in the city. Whether you’re planning a space that will rival the NY Botanical Gardens or you simply want to grow pasta toppings , the following tips can help.

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Who says you can’t have a roof garden in NYC? No one, that’s who! Rooftop gardens are actually pretty common, but people may be slow to start them because they’re unclear about what’s involved in running and managing them. You may not be interested in starting a massive urban rooftop farm like the surreal Brooklyn Grange, but if you want to take the farm-to-table movement to a whole new and very personal level, you can.

Is It Allowed?

Just because your empty building rooftop has just sat there practically waiting for your inspiration since before you were born, it doesn’t mean you can just haul your Home Depot bags of potting soil up there. Find out if you’re allowed to. It may actually go against city code to put anything on the roof. If you’re renting and your landlord owns the building, get permission from him or her.

Check the Roof’s Structural Integrity

If you own the building or the roof rights to the building, speak with an architect to find out exactly how much weight the rooftop can sustain. You need to make sure the roof is structurally sound before you start building a replica of the Rockefeller Center Rooftop Gardens. Your goal should be to err on the side of caution and go light when it comes to weight versus going heavy.

Create a Roof Map

roof garden path

Image Source: Flickr/Jill Laurie Goodman

Approach designing your roof garden in the same way that you’d approach designing an apartment. Figure out which plants will go where, and design a garden path that people can use to get from one end of the garden to the other. You’re going to want to create a walkable space that feels relaxing and is easy to move around in versus a space that feels tight and cluttered.

Consider the Elements

Determine how the elements will affect your roof garden. Does your rooftop get a lot of sun, or is it in the shade most of the time? How much light or shade your roof gets will impact the types of plants you can grow. Be aware that rooftops can get extremely windy.

Choose Your Plants

Figure out which plants you’re going to grow. Depending on the rooftop, you could grow everything from fruits to vegetables to herbs to fruit trees!

Deciduous trees like dwarf Japanese maples not only provide much needed shade from the blazing sun beating down on the rooftop during summer, but they also pretty the space up with their gorgeous blazing red, pink, and purple leaves. Meyer lemon trees are beautiful, and they’re easy to grow in containers. When it comes to fruits, flowers, and veggies, you have near limitless choices.

How Will You Water?

Determine how you’re going to get water to your rooftop garden. If you’ve got a hose, it will be easy to water your crop. If you don’t have a hose or access to a rooftop water supply, you’ll have to carry water to the roof. Keep this in mind when thinking about the size of your garden. If you’re extremely lazy, choose drought-tolerant plants that can withstand days or weeks without watering.

Choose Your Containers and Soil

Remember, “light is right” when it comes to your rooftop garden. Choose containers and soil that are strong enough to securely house your plants, shrubs, and trees but that are also light enough to not add excess weight to the building. Potting soil will be better for your rooftop garden than regular garden dirt because it weighs a lot less.

Main Image Source: Flickr/Jill Laurie Goodman

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