containers and raised beds and pouches, oh my

In many developed nations we are both blessed and cursed with an obscene breadth of consumer choices.  With a selection as simple as what type of cereal to buy: low fat, high fiber, whole grain, multi-color… decisions can quickly become daunting.  Selecting planters for your home rooftop garden can conjure similar feelings of intimidation, and so here are a few quick steps to select your planters and grease your track to success:

Seedlings awaiting transplant into containers || photo by Lauren Mandel

step 1| Determine your garden’s objective.  What prompted you to build a rooftop garden in the first place?  Do you need herbs for cooking?  Would you like to feed your family and friends throughout the summer?  Defining your goals while considering the size and weight restrictions of your rooftop will start you off in the right direction.  Honestly evaluating your lifestyle and how much time you can commit to watering, staking plants, and harvesting, will also help you determine what garden scale to pursue.  For dainty installations, try focusing on containers and hanging pouches.  If quantity is what you’re after, consider raised beds and self-watering containers.

step 2| Decide what crops to plant.  This will be your garden.  What vegetables and herbs will you enjoy eating and sharing with others?  Each crop prefers a different soil depth, and the height of your planters should reflect these needs.  Select shallow containers for shallow-rooted plants like greens and herbs, and deeper containers for crops like tomatoes, eggplant, and Brussel sprouts.  Keep in mind that deeper soil means heavier planters, so be sure to consult a licensed structural engineer whenever a roof’s structural capacity is unknown.

step 3| Consider using recycled materials.  Off-the-shelf planters can be quick and easy to install, but what if you’re trying to save a few bucks?  Salvaging recycled materials, such as barrels, tins, even old bathtubs, can provide you with the planters you need, without the cost.  Be smart about your selection by avoiding materials that could contaminate your soil, such as pressure treated wood, lead paint, or resins.  Remember also that metal will rust and degrade quickly.

step 4| Let it drain!  Regardless of whether you select containers, raised beds, hanging pouches, or recycled vessels, your planters must drain to prevent root rot.  Most off-the-shelf containers are manufactured with at least one hole in the base, through which excess water is ushered.  Metal containers do not contain drainage holes as consistently as ceramic and plastic pots, so drill or punch out several holes (with a hammer and nail) if none exists.  Hanging pouches are generally made of felt or burlap cloth, both of which are permeable to water.  For raised beds, try installing a hard plastic sheet drain with a high compressive strength (a common green roof component) underneath the frame to allow water to leave the bed.

What types of planters exist in your home garden?  Are you happy with their performance?

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