When we were searching for our first home there were a few nonnegotiable items we decided we could not live without. At the top of this list was an outdoor space that we could retreat to at the end of long days, and to enjoy our morning cups of coffee. After months of searching and browsing almost 30 (yes 30!) properties, we finally found the one. The largest selling point for us was its sizable roof deck which was a blank canvas ready for my personal touch.
Since moving in over one year ago, I have been obsessed with creating the rooftop garden of my dreams. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, (and with more time on my hands then ever before) I was able to bring this dream to fruition. When scouring the Pinterest, Google, and other blogs for inspiration and knowledge, I came across an overwhelming amount of information on creating vegetable gardens, but few results focused on tips and tricks when your garden space is on a roof deck.
Through trial and error, and with the help of some friends with green thumbs, I’ve learned so much about what works and what doesn’t work when creating a sustainable vegetable and herb garden that can weather the high temperatures and conditions of a rooftop. If you are interested in creating a vegetable garden of your own either on a rooftop (or just in your backyard) I hope you will find these tips helpful.
Creating a Rooftop Vegetable Garden
Choose vegetables and herbs that do well in high sun and high heat.
Below you’ll find a list of the vegetables that are thriving in my garden as well as a few that have not been doing well. For those that are doing well, the vessel they are planted in has been essential to their growth. Vessels are extremely important because they ensure that a plant isn’t overwaters by providing proper drainage. This year I purchased a vertical planter and this was one of the best decision for those with a smaller space. For these interested, it is the Gronomics Cedar Vertical Planter and can be purchased from Gardener’s Supply, Amazon, or Wayfair. For the potted plants, a standard terracotta planter with a drainage hole and plate is by far the best.
Vegetables & Herbs (Garden Bed)
- Banana Peppers
- Beef Tomatoes
- Butter Lettuce
- Jalapeno Peppers
- Swiss Chard
Vegetables & Herbs (Potted)
- Basil (Amethyst, Lemon)
What’s not working and why
- Rosemary – I learned from a friend and through some research that rosemary plants tend to do better with less water and more stable temperatures. They are designed to survive droughts. Because of the varied heat and conditions (especially on a roof deck) it may be best to grow this inside near a window with direct sunlight.
- Scotch Bonnet Peppers – Scotch Bonnet peppers are very slow growers taking almost 90 days to reach full size. Grown in abundance in the Caribbean, these tend to better in more humid climates. It would be best to buy this as a starter plant with a few peppers already budding. Otherwise you may be waiting a long time to get a harvest.
- Eggplants – While these are growing well, we have found that birds and other critters are drawn to them. It was devastating to watch them grow for weeks to come out one day and see them gone. If you are planning on planting these, I would consider planting them in a separate bed with a protective cage or wire to deter invaders.
Plan your watering and care regimen based on the weather, and be sure to stick to it.
Most days my plants require generous watering in the morning, and a second watering by mid-afternoon. Because I live in the northeast, we also encounter some summer rain and thunderstorms. Obviously, on these days I water the plants less (or not at all). Also, because the plants are not in ground, it is important to evaluate if you may need to bring in a few plants indoors as winds tend to be stronger when elevated. While the joke is that the weather man is rarely right, I have become much more aware of weather conditions by checking the app on my telephone, or by keeping close watch by the window to assess what my plants might need.
Prune regularly and harvest once they reach full size.
It’s important to regularly cut back your herbs to stimulate growth. Removing dead leaves can create healthier plants. You should also harvest your vegetables once they reach full size (this varies by plant so be sure to do your research here). Sometimes leaving a vegetable for too long will cause it to lose the flavor or spice you know and love.
Examine your plants daily for signs of pests or disease.
As mentioned before, I was devastated when learning that birds or another critter had taken my growing eggplants. This taught me to check each plant everyday for signs my plants have been impacted. By paying closer attention, I was able to identify potential issues that could impact my plant’s health. Once diagnosed, many of these issues became easy to correct (i.e. placing a cage around a plant, adding more soil, or finding natural ways to discourage pests).
Think outside of the box to get inspiration on what you’d like to grow.
On a trip to the farmer’s market last Spring, I stumbled upon a root vegetable I had never heard of before, the Kohlrabi. It quickly became one of my favorite vegetables to cook with, so you can imagine my disappointed when I could no longer get them. Luckily, I was able to order some Kohlrabi seeds from Eden Brothers, and they are doing swimmingly in my garden. Next time you’re out and about or exploring online, take the leap and try something you haven’t before.