Do you dream of growing flowers or vegetables but your growing area isn’t ideal for either? Whether you live in a crowded city or want to make the most of your space, a rooftop garden can be a great addition to your home. Here’s how to get started in five steps.

buildings in the city with rooftop garden

What is a Rooftop Garden?

A rooftop garden is a sustainable way to grow food, insulate your home and purify the air. Depending on its size, you can create walkways and seating areas for residents and visitors to enjoy. The concept isn’t new, with evidence of the first rooftop gardens going back centuries.

A modern garden is filled with benefits for the environment, community, and your mental and physical health. Keep in mind that the more changes you need to make to your roof, the pricier creating your garden will be.

Here are five steps for starting a rooftop garden. 

1. Get Permission

Before you plan to put your dream garden on your roof, you should ensure you can do it. 

If you rent, you’ll need permission from your landlord. As lovely as a rooftop garden can be, it’s a significant architectural and design change the building’s owner deserves control over. The last thing you want is to get into legal trouble by altering the structure without authorisation.

Even if you own your home, you will likely need permission from your homeowners’ association and municipality. Look into local ordinances to know what you need to make your garden project legal.

You may need planning approvals or building regulations permissions to proceed. Knowing what you can and cannot legally do can prevent you from getting fined or needing to dismantle what you put together.

european city

2. Know Your Roof’s Limits

What you can do with your roof largely depends on its structure. Most roofs can handle around 30 pounds per square foot. A thicker, stronger rooftop can take more development than a thinner one.

Eco-roofs are sustainable options but not good for rooftop gardens since they’re flimsy and might not permanently handle heavy equipment without cracking. Metal ones are also not the best choice — they’re durable, but they reflect light and heat more than other models.

Wood and clay shingles are excellent options for a rooftop garden. Concrete is also great, especially if you want to create different pathways and seating areas. 

Sloped roofs are not good options for rooftop gardens, as they are hard to navigate safely. Shallow slopes can work, but if you feel like you’re at an angle, continuing with your plans is not recommended.

You can control the weight you put on your roof by choosing lighter planters and putting your garden in smaller sections. Consult a trusted architect or contractor to determine what’s safe for your roof. If you desire a rooftop garden, you could need a roof replacement before installing it.

3. Make Necessary Adaptations

Installing proper drainage is necessary so your plants get sufficiently watered without damaging your home. You’ll also need to have adequate stormwater drainage that goes away from your garden.

Downspouts and drains allow water to hydrate your plants before they cleanly run off. Installing the right items is vital for letting your garden thrive. Just as you need water to drain, you need an easy way to add water to your garden. You can’t count on rain to keep your plants healthy. Before installing your garden, ensure you can run a hose line to the roof.

Whether you choose light or heavy planters, you should secure them to your roof to avoid accidents. Depending on your roof type, you can use anchors, nails or adhesives to keep your beds secure. Raised beds are often preferred for rooftop gardens, as you won’t have to bend over to care for them, possibly causing an unsafe situation.

If you want to paint an area for a courtyard or decoration, do so before you begin planting. The chemicals in paints could harm your plants.

Lighting is another consideration. If you need to get to your garden at night, do you have enough light to navigate safely? Installing flood lights can help you water, fertilise or make emergency adjustments without potentially harming yourself.

little girl taking photo of flowers in a raised bed

4. Assemble Your Garden

You can begin the design process once you have permission and know your roof can handle it. Safety is the top priority for a rooftop garden, so securing the planters you choose before planting is necessary.

Decide if you want your garden to take up your entire roof or a portion of it. Your choices can impact how much you enjoy your garden, how others might enjoy it and how much maintenance it will require.

Some people start their outdoor gardens in roof corners, while others go from the centre outwards. A large roof can accommodate seating areas, allowing people to enjoy fresh air and greenery. Doing so is especially useful in a concrete jungle since your plants can be soothing. Research shows being around them can reduce stress levels and decrease symptoms of some mental health conditions.

The plants you choose can make a huge difference in laying out your garden. If you want to plant produce and herbs, you’ll want to choose varieties without long roots so they don’t suffocate. There are many shallow root varieties that can work on a roof, including: 

  • Corn
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Onions

There are also many herbs you can grow, such as:

  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Mint 
  • Thyme 
  • Oregano 
  • Parsley 
  • Lemon balm 

You can also plant grasses for which you might need more space around your home or flat. Urban and suburban areas often have significantly less ground cover than rural areas, making them warmer. Having greenery on your roof surface can have a cooling effect. Remember — the soil used for ground cover can add significant weight to your roof.

Though you’ll see fewer pests on the roof than on the ground, strategically placing your crops can keep them as safe as possible. For example, planting mint near cabbage can keep aphids and cabbage moths at bay. Nets can also help protect them.

Other options for your garden include flowers, shrubs and trees. Trees can shade your plants from high levels of sun as long as their leaves let light filter through. Bushes can create a nice border around the roof and flowers can add pops of colour throughout your garden.

5. Decorate Your Garden

Though it’s not a requirement, decorating your garden can make it feel more like a miniature paradise. If you create the space on a shared roof, consider asking your neighbour if they want to contribute. You can bring your community together with the love and care you put into it.

String lights can make your garden feel magical, and comfortable chairs can encourage you to lounge and relax. For a concrete roof, consider letting kids decorate with sidewalk chalk. You could also use nontoxic paints or chalk to make decorative drawings for each season.

Get Growing With a Rooftop Garden

A rooftop garden is an excellent way to cool your home, remove pollution from the air, and create an inviting space for you and your community. Consider following these steps to get your plant paradise started as soon as possible.

Rose Morrison is a home living writer with over five years experience writing in the industry. She is the managing editor of and loves to cover home renovations and decor to inspire everyone to live their best DIY life. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her baking something to satisfy her never-ending sweet tooth.