9 rules for your community garden

Jason Van Steenwyk
Jason Van Steenwyk | 4 min. read

Published on May 24, 2016

Last week, we discussed the many benefits of community gardens for your residents: from better mental health to locally grown food, it’s an easy way to make residents happy.

Not to mention, after an initial investment of less than $15 per square foot, you may even be able to expect a reduction in energy costs of up to $38 per square foot!

But, of course, as we mentioned, there are some liabilities to consider before diving into the world of horticulture.

If you have the space, a roof garden is a great way to add some plant life to an urban dwelling. But, if it’s not done properly, it can be dangerous: in 2011, a green roof collapsed into a parking garage in Illinois, causing $13 million in damages.

That said, you’ll want to get an engineer or architect involved to ensure that you’re not damaging the integrity of your building by putting a garden on the roof. Here are some of the things you’ll want to discuss with them:

  • Grading and drainage
  • Roof permeability
  • Weight on the roof in the summer and the winter
  • Support points and added reinforcement
  • Wind scouring effects (especially near the coast)
  • Plant growth characteristics (roots, weight, overall growth)

And, to be sure your architect or engineer is following the ASTM Standard Guide for the Selection, Installation, and Maintenance of Green Roof Systems. (ASTM International is a U.S.-based organization that researches and sets the standards for how a variety of materials and products should be built and produced.)

After it’s installed, you’ll need to mitigate risks with your residents. Put conduct and care expectations in writing, and don’t forget to mention:

  1. How to apply for a plot. Include the application with the rulebook so tenants are well-informed and prepared for this commitment.
  2. If orientation or training is available for gardeners. The last thing you want in your rooftop garden is a well-meaning, poorly-informed gardener with brown thumbs. Provide (required!) training, to help everyone get the most out of their garden.
  3. Expectations for care. Personal plots should be tended to appropriately (weeding, watering, etc) to prevent pests and damage to the roof. Be specific about repercussions for breaking the rules.
  4. Watering schedules. Plants can suffer from both under- and over-watering, and so can your roof! Set times and restrictions to conserve water and ensure plants are getting what they need at the right time of day.
  5. Planting schedules. Plots should be clean and ready for Spring and Fall planting and harvesting. Make it clear that the resident will pay the price if you have to arrange for their plot to be cleared at the end of the growing season.
  6. Plants that are and are not allowed. You certainly don’t want illegal and invasive plants wreaking havoc on your roof, so be sure to be clear about which plants are totally fine, and which aren’t.
  7. Tool storage and sharing. Some communities will provide tools for everyone to share. Others will require that individuals bring the tools they need and store them in their units. It’s up to you, but be sure to explain these expectations.
  8. Waste disposal. You should provide disposal bins for common trash, and consider providing a compost barrel for weeds and other garden refuse. Provide clear instructions for either or both methods of disposal.
  9. Rules regarding children. Roofs can be a dangerous place. Install fences and gates, and consider a rule that nobody under a certain age is allowed to access the roof.

If you’re considering a garden roof, what are some of your concerns? If you already have a community garden, share your most helpful advice below in the comments!

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Jason Van Steenwyk

Jason is a freelance writer and editor, as well as an avid fiddler. His articles have been published in a number of real estate publications including Wealth and Retirement Planner and Bankrate.com. He lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his cat, Sasha, and an unknown number of musical instruments.

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