How to Build a Rooftop Garden – Ideas for Your Apartment

For people who live in populated urban areas, having a full garden may not be feasible. However, this certainly doesn’t mean that you have to go without. There are dozens of rooftop gardens ideas that can help you transform your space and create a small garden area that you can sit and enjoy. 

We’re going to list out several rooftops gardens ideas that you can try on your own. In addition, we’ll list out several things you want to consider when you decide whether or not this type of garden is right for your situation or not. 

1. Used Raised Flower Beds

One of the easiest ways to help you create a stunning garden is using raised flower beds. As far as rooftop gardens ideas goes, raised flower beds should be your first one. These raised flower beds should rest adjacent to the walls of your rooftop gardens. If you want to plant things like shrubs or trees, you can create larger raised beds that are at least two feet deep.

You do want to make sure that you have a waterproofing membrane inside the box with a thick root barrier on the bottom and up the sides that prevents the roots from spreading through and damaging the roof. This rooftop garden idea is also great if you plan to plant vegetables like tomatoes. You won’t have to bend over so far to water and prune them, and this makes it much less taxing on your body to maintain your garden. 

Rooftop Garden 1 Raised Beds
Raised flower beds allow you to create layered designs that give you more space to plant your rooftop garden. 

2. Keep the Area Open

When you have rooftop garden ideas, you may think about trying to enclose your rooftop gardens. However, keeping it open can invite an airy feel and look. It also makes your garden appear much bigger than it really is if you make a point to keep the area wide open. You could use transparent glass instead of a plastic wall to help divide up your different sections. 

If you want to create a border around some of your plants, one rooftop garden idea is to use hedges or a thin railing. You’re not obstructing your rooftop gardens, but you’re introducing a few hard lines to give your garden a natural flow from one point to the next. 

3. Take Advantage of Vertical Space 

Maybe you don’t have the best view surrounding your rooftop garden. You could have older buildings, signs in disrepair, or just general grime that takes away from the charm of your rooftop gardens. One great rooftop garden idea is to take advantage of your vertical space and create a natural wall while boosting your greenery. You do want to look into trees or shrubs that do well in full sun. 

One option you have available is to grow grasses and bamboo. They can get relatively tall, but they’re also very low maintenance. Shrubs and ornamental trees are another option if you’re content to wait a year or two for them to take off. This rooftop garden idea is all about taking advantage of your vertical space while improving  your view at the same time. 

Rooftop Garden 2 Walls
Hedges create a wonderful green wall that will give you privacy while adding a splash of color to your garden. Trellises with vines also work very well. 

4. Design Your Garden Ahead of Time 

No matter what your rooftop garden ideas are, you have to design them ahead of time. This design process will help you ensure that you get a diverse range of plant sizes to work with. For example, you could create a living wall on one side of the garden that uses both vertical and horizontal space, and the other side of your garden could have taller shrubs and trees to balance it out. 

You can mix and match ground covers, larger plants, bright flowers, and shrubs. Buying containers in different sizes and shapes is a good rooftop garden idea because it’ll help you create areas of interest around your plants. Laying out a design will also help you budget because it’ll give you a clear understanding of the plants and containers you need before you start shopping. 

5. Add Furniture 

Your new garden wouldn’t be complete without a sitting area. Maybe you want to take time every day and relax or lounge, or you want an area where you can have dinner. When you’re considering rooftop garden ideas, consider furniture. It’s a good idea to make your choice early because this can help you plan out the design without having to reorganize it halfway through. 

Anyone pinched for space can look into furniture that doubles as a storage. Many benches do, and they create a nice seating area in the process. When you’re forming this rooftop garden idea, consider your area. If you’re somewhere that has four seasons, you may need hardier furniture or have a plan to store it once the weather takes a turn. For more mild climates, you may be able to get away with lighter furniture. 

Rooftop Garden 3 Furniture
Your outdoor furniture should be durable enough to withstand the elements while still being functional and fitting into the rooftop itself.

6. Incorporate Lighting 

The lighting is an important rooftop garden idea that many people forget about until it’s too late. You want to be able to enjoy your new rooftop gardens well after dusk, and rope lights can help. It’s easy to get LED rope lights that you can string around the flooring, walls, and through any trees you have. They come in a variety of different colors, and you can choose from battery or solar-powered ones. 

Your lighting can help you set the mood for your garden. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of having a quiet spot to sit back and relax with a good book, or you wanted a nice area for all of your friends and family to gather. Either way, this rooftop garden idea will ensure you get the most use out of your space possible during the day and night. 

7. Stick to Three or Fewer Colors 

Although it’s tempting to go all out with your color scheme when you’re thinking of rooftop garden ideas, you do want to consider scaling it back. Pick one color to be your main accent color, and then pick out two other colors that fit in with your main one. Using fewer colors is a great way to give your area a sleek and sophisticated look that doesn’t steal the spotlight from your carefully organized garden. 

If your rooftop garden idea is to go all out with several bright and bold colors or have different colors on the floor, walls, furniture, railings, or containers, it can make the rooftop gardens look very cluttered and busy. Combining a neutral color with another soft color is the best way to go. Gray, white, indigo, and beige all work to enhance the natural beauty of the plants you pick out without drawing you away from them. 

Rooftop Garden 4 Paint Colors
When you pick out your paint colors, think of the shades that will enhance your plants and make them the star of the garden. You don’t want to take away from them by choosing colors that are too flashy. 

8. Add a Centralized Focal Point 

Adding a focal point will give anyone who goes into your garden a place to look. The purpose of a focal point is to draw attention, and it’s good to plan on or two when you’re brainstorming rooftop garden ideas. You could have a small water feature, a statue, a gorgeous arrangement of planted containers, tall trees, or this could be a seating area for your family and friends. 

Another rooftop garden idea is to create a shaded area and hang up shade sails or hammocks. This will give you a slightly cooler area to go during the day to relax. Additionally, this shaded area lets you mix and match different plants that require full or partial shade to give yourself a little more diversity. Bring out your favorite book, kindle, or hobby and sit by your focal point and enjoy your garden. 

9. Install Flooring 

This may be tricky if you live in an apartment building that doesn’t allow you to add anything to the rooftop. However, it’s a solid rooftop garden idea that can extend your garden’s lifespan. Concrete is okay for the most part, but you can create a nicer looking area if you install some type of flooring. You want to consider your budget and the climate you live in before you settle on one.

For example, wood flooring wouldn’t be appropriate for the most part because it can warp if it gets wet from rain or when you water the plants. However, things like tile or even vinyl could work. You can buy stick-on vinyl and apply it to the roof of your building. This will help you define the area for your rooftop garden, and it’ll make the rooftop gardens look neater and welcoming. 

Rooftop Garden 5 Flooring
You can use hardscapes like stones and bricks to create flooring for your rooftop garden. However, these will add a significant amount of weight. 

10. Maximize Your Space

You most likely don’t have a lot of room for this type of garden, so you want to be sure you do everything you possibly can to maximize your space when you’re considering the different rooftop garden ideas. For example, maybe you have a railing that runs around the perimeter of the roof. If so, you can hang a few trellises up over the edge and plant more flowers. It’s important that you take steps to secure it though because it could hurt someone if it accidentally fell. 

The corners are an area that is often neglected, but you could build in some corner shelves and take advantage of this space. Plant your items in stacked planters to create layers that take advantage of the most space possible, both vertically and horizontally. The goal with this rooftop garden idea is to help you maximize every square inch of space you have available to create a full look. 

11. Add a Vegetable Garden

If you’re not thrilled about the idea of adding flowers or ornamental plants onto your rooftop area, consider creating a vegetable garden. This rooftop garden idea is a great way to make use of this space, and you can have fresh vegetables throughout the growing season. If you live in a warmer climate, you could even try your hand at planting fruit trees and having both fruits and vegetables available. 

Anyone who has neighbors who would like to help can pull them into their rooftop garden idea. Maybe you agree to share the bounty with them if they help you maintain the garden. It can cut down on your food costs, and you won’t have to run to the grocery store as often. Instead, you’ll pop up to your garden, grab a few vegetables, wash them, cut them, and they’re ready to go. 

Rooftop Garden 6 Vegetables
Growing a vegetable garden is a great way to reduce your grocery bill while taking advantage of the sunny conditions a rooftop garden brings you. 

12. Attract Wildlife 

It can be difficult to see wildlife every day if you live in a congested urban area. But, this rooftop garden idea will help bring the birds to you. There are things you can bring into your garden design that are irresistible to birds. A simple bird bath will encourage them to come and play in the water. You could add a bird feeder or two along your garden’s edge a little ways from your sitting area. The birds will become attracted to the food and come to visit. 

If you want butterflies, you can add planting butterfly bushes to your rooftop garden ideas. These are beautiful ornamental plants that grow pretty flowers to attract butterflies. They also have great great hiding areas for smaller wildlife.

13. Create a Lawn

Maybe your rooftop garden ideas are slightly more low-maintenance and laid back. If this is the case, you can easily green up your area by creating a small patch of lawn. Laying sod is a nice way to get instant results if you’re not sure how to propagate and maintain traditional grass. You will have to routinely water and cut this grass, and applying fertilizer every two or three months will help it stay green, thick, and lush. 

However, the lawn is an excellent rooftop garden idea because it gives you an area to sit and relax. You can easily have a picnic or a cookout with your friends here. It gives your kids a nice place to play outside in the sunshine too. There are several different types of grasses to choose from, and you can create a border around it with potted plants, trees, or shrubs to create an enclosed area. 

Rooftop Garden 7 Lawn
A small patch of lawn is a great way to add a natural floor to your garden while giving your kids or pets a nice place to relax and play.

14. Use Solar Power 

Since rooftops get so much sunlight during the day, an excellent rooftop garden idea is to incorporate solar power. You will need more space for this and more money upfront, but you could potentially cut your home’s electricity bill if you do it correctly. If you live in a building that you don’t own, you will have to ask for your building owner’s permission before you do anything with it though. 

You could get smaller solar panels and use them to power your lighting. The nice thing about these types of lights is that they usually go on and off by themselves when they sense it getting darker out. They can last between six and eight hours a night, and they won’t cost you any additional electricity to run. Many rope lights come with solar panels attached. 

15. Add Whimsical Features 

It’s a good idea to add paths around your rooftop garden so people don’t accidentally trample your flowers or containers as they walk around. But, you can also add a few whimsical features to liven up the area. A simple wooden bridge or other hardscape can create an attractive and eye-catching way to get from point A to point B, and you can use it to divide up different areas of your garden. 

A wooden pergola is a simple structure that will give you partial shade where you can sit and relax between working on your garden. Taller whimsical features like the pergola will also add height to your garden, and you can easily create an area for vines to grow up the sides and over the top of it if you want more shade. 

Rooftop Garden 8 Whimsical Features
A small gazebo or similar structure gives you a nice sitting area in your garden while providing much-needed shade.

Planting Considerations for Your Rooftop Gardens Ideas 

While the general maintenance that comes with caring for a rooftop garden is very close to a normal garden or containers, there are some unique aspects you have to consider. If you don’t, you could end up with a garden that doesn’t thrive, or you could get into trouble with your landlord. You should consider: 

  • Permission – If you don’t own the building, make sure you get written permission from the landlord or building owner before you do anything. Check with your local city council on height restrictions, fire regulations, or any building codes you have to be aware of with your garden. 
  • Access – How easy it is to get in and out of your rooftop garden? How are you going to get your supplies up there? If you live in a condo or apartment building, make sure it’s okay to use the elevator. Some codes require you to have multiple entrances and exits and lighting. You’ll want to keep these requirements in mind when you build. 
  • Structural Integrity – Once you get all of the dirt and plants in your containers, this can add a lot of stress onto your roof. You have to make sure your roof can handle the load your rooftop garden idea will put on it. You should enlist the help of a licensed professional to test the structural integrity of the roof. 
  • Sunlight – How much direct sunlight exposure does the garden get on a regular basis? If it’s a lot, you’ll have to adjust your plants accordingly. Are there any terraces or structures that will cast shadows? Remember that the sun will be intense up here, especially with a concrete backdrop. 
  • Water – Is it possible for you to run a hose out onto the roof to reach all of your containers? If not, you may have to think about installing a rain barrel or drip irrigation. If you don’t, you’ll have to manually carry water up to the garden and water each container. This can be extremely time-consuming and put a large strain on your body.

Rooftop Garden 9 Water
A rain barrel is a great way to reuse water and give your plants pure water without any chemicals or additives in it. 

  • Heat – The sun will beat down onto your rooftop garden and make it very warm. Ambient heat is another thing you have to worry about, and this is the heat that reflects from the surface of the roof, streetcars, surrounding buildings, or utility structures. You’ll want shade of some type for yourself, if not for the plants. 
  • Privacy – Even though you’re out on the roof, privacy can be a fickle thing. Anyone in an urban area most likely has tall buildings surrounding them, and this takes your privacy away. One easy way to increase your privacy level is to plant an evergreen hedge or set up a wall of trellises and vines. You can get a big sun umbrella and set it up over a table too. 
  • Wind – The wind can be a huge factor with high-rises, and it could be strong enough to batter your plants or blow the containers over. A fence or a wall can help cut down on the wind and save your plants. However, you’ll have to check your building codes before you put anything up to make sure you don’t go over any height restrictions. 
  • Electrical – Electricity out in your garden isn’t a necessity, but it can make things easier if you want to enjoy it after dust. Rope lights or even small battery-operated lights and solar lights can usually give you several hours of light without requiring any excess wiring on your part. 
  • Budget – Your budget will play a role in how extravagant your rooftop garden is. You can always start small and add on as you get more funds. The biggest expense you’ll have with this garden is applying hardscapes or building directly on the roof. Adding lighting, building raised beds, adding furniture, or laying tiles can add up. You may also need to reinforce the area to support it. 
  • Storage Space – There are a lot of items associated with keeping a garden in good shape like compost, fertilizer, trowels, shovels, and other garden tools. The containers themselves can present a storage problem in the off-season. Bench seating that doubles as storage, narrow closets, or shelving units can all help you maximize your storage space. 

Rooftop Garden 10 End
A nice rooftop garden is a great way to use space that would normally go to waste, and you can create a relaxing area for your entire building to enjoy.

Bottom Line 

These 15 ideas for your rooftop garden and general considerations will help you create a stunning space that is perfect to sit back and relax in. You have the freedom to create one that is as big or as small as your space allows, and it’s easy to scale it up or down as your needs change.

Fun Rooftop Gardens Ideas for Your Apartment