Safety must be a part of your Green Roof. Please review the resources on this website's Safety First page before ever climbing the ladder up to the roof!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Urban Agriculture DIY Low Cost Raised Vegetable Bed for Urban Core Sustainability

Our yard soil is well drained sand.  Gardening in Florida sand is difficult to say the least.  It does little good to water with a hose because the moisture disappears almost immediately.

Even our native horsemint, Monada pnctata wilts on a daily basis here in the dry, hot sandy soil.
Here in Palm Coast the Atlantic winds are constantly blowing hot, dry air across our yard.  Even the native plants such as spotted horsemint, Monarda punctata and black eye Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, are all wilting by the time four o'clock in the afternoon arrives.

I wanted to do some serious gardening this year without spending hundreds of dollars each month trying to keep the impossible to irrigate sandy garden patch, irrigated.

The idea of a raised bed filled with organic matter to hold the moisture stayed in my thoughts as I considered different gardening bed design options.

But raised beds can be expensive.  After totaling my first materials list for a 8' long by 4' wide by 3' deep bed, I was shocked at the price tag. No way will I build this.  I'd be better off financially by buying organic veggies from Publix, I told myself.

The affordability component of sustainability and urban agriculture is crucial for long term success.  So rather than spend the four hundred dollars it would cost to buy nice straight cedar boards and stainless hardware, I spent the morning looking at what few scrap materials were stacked neatly (lol) in the backyard.

I soon found out constructing a raised growing bed for pennies can be easily accomplished.

After gathering about thirty metal stakes and laying them out in the shape of a rectangle, I retrieved the big hammer from the garage and enlisted my tall teenager into tapping them into the sandy ground about one meter apart.

Soon the rough outline of the garden bed appeared above the sand.

Recycled stakes and old chicken wire form the perimeter of the urban agriculture raised planting bed
Once the stakes were in place, reused chicken wire was stretched and attached to the stakes with ties fashioned out of copper strands from an old, worn out extension cord.

With the 'frame' in place the next step was to line the interior of the bed with saw palmetto.  Our back backyard is filled with saw palmetto.
Urban agriculture raised bed lined with saw palmetto fronds

Saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, grows broad and fibrous fan shaped leaves approximately two to three feet in diameter.  Saw palmetto, besides being a Florida native plant, provides a variety of ethnobotanical benefits from fiber from the leaves, nectar from the flowers and medicine from the berries.
Urban agriculture planting bed uses saw palmetto fronds as an organic bed liner.

We placed three layers of fresh cut, green saw palmetto fronds inside the chicken wire and over the bare soil.   The fronds served two main purposes of; A. keeping the dirt from spilling out of the chicken wire, and B. slowing down any vertical drainage of water from the bed into the thirsty sand below.
Urban agriculture planting bed layered with leaves and sandy soil

Urban agriculture planting bed layered with leaves and sandy soil
 Once the saw palmetto fronds were in place, sandy soil from our old garden beds was added over the fronds.

With four inches of soil over several inches of fronds in the raised bed, we then added a foot of decomposing oak leaves, another four inch layer of sand-dirt and them more leaves, then more dirt.

Soon our bed was a full three feet full of sand and decomposed leaf compost.  We watered in the bed and allowed the organic planting mass of leaves and dirt to settle for a week.

Urban agriculture planting bed, scatter seeds and water.
Judy always keeps a chest full of seeds in the house, so when it came time to plant I had fun selecting a variety of summer vegetables.  Seed packets are usually so pretty and jump-start a gardener's imagination.

I simply scattered the seeds across the top of the raised bed and watered them in.

The enormous amount of organic matter in the bed holds moisture, keeping the planting area from drying out like the sand in our backyard.
Urban agriculture raised bed, seeds soon sprout and vegetables grow
Earth worms have already made their way to the raised bed and in turn the robins and mockingbirds frequent the area daily in search of any raised bed bugs.

One of the most important keys to a successful urban core agriculture project are pollinators.  The native Rudbeckia hirta, best known as 'black-eyed Susans' grow around the perimeter of the bed, loudly calling the pollinators, attracting them en masse and in turn facilitating the development of many yummy veggies.
Urban agriculture raised bed with pollinator plants, Rudbeckia hirta
The bed is the perfect compost pile.  The raised growing area also keeps the plump, furry saw palmetto rabbits from grazing on our veggies.

Growing plants in the rich, deep leaf humus is so much easier than in our well-drained sand.  Water tends to stay inside the frond lined bed instead of draining away quickly down into the surgical aquifer.
Urban agriculture raised bed easily grows organic vegetables

Urban agriculture raised planting bed with three week old squash plants and lots of baby squash

Urban agriculture raised bed plant roots and saw palmetto fronds hold soil in place, eliminating need for side boards.
Though I first considered lining the outside of the planting bed with boards, I can see now that an outside covering is not necessary.  The root architecture of the plants weaves into the chicken wire forming an impenetrable vertical wall.  In fact, flowers and veggies are growing out of the side, forming an edible and blooming living wall of sorts.

Urban agriculture can be effective without becoming expensive.

Recycling, reuse and use of locally available materials are key.  As is a little imagination.  Just hold a packet of veggie or wildflower seeds in your hand and look out back and think - 'in just three weeks'....

Friday, May 22, 2015

Genius Design. Creating Smart Stormwater and Landscape Ecology.

Land is usually expensive in the urban core and that is why it is so important for the site designer to try and maximize buildable space while incorporating green space, stormwater and parking.
Genius design - combining stormwater and landscape (& using native plants!)
Historically the trend has been to specify the square or rectangular stormwater pond and the linear, parallel strips of landscape separately.

Really, the only reason I can think this practice was started was because many civil designers grew up playing with square Legos.

Or maybe neatly compartmentalized site design components on the blueprints were easier to get approved by the planning department.

People get into a mindset.  Most do not like change.  So once the square stormwater pond and parallel strips of landscape islands and no trees and lots of black asphalt became the norm, well... who were civil designers to rock the boat with natural complicated curves?  After all, most schools teach - square stormwater pond plus parallel strips of landscape islands plus sprawl equals quick governmental approval for the project.

But occasionally I see a really successful genius design where the smart engineer foregoes the separate stormwater and landscape components.  Instead they maximize space and create urban ecology by using natural curves and native plants integrated together into a sustainable and cost efficient functioning part of the site layout.
The above photo is an example of how to perfectly combine landscape buffer requirements with stormwater obligations and create a wonderful native fern living wall too!

Native wetland trees, cypress, Taxodium spp., were planted in a depression and act as visual barriers to the adjacent highway while also serving as stormwater siphons, transpiring several hundred gallons of water each day into the atmosphere - assisting in water attenuation and flood control.

Instead of a gaping, unsightly, litter filled stormwater pond that requires extra real estate, this designer has created vital urban ecology all the while satisfying stormwater and landscape requirements with the jurisdictional permitting agency.

I can hear the square designers howling now.  Yes, I know that there are many factors in creating adequate stormwater facilities.  But it just makes sense to maximize site density with respect to the environment, the community and the economy.

Think outside the box (square)!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Urban Sustainability Requires Pedestrian Legitimacy

Urban sustainability must be centered around adequate pedestrian infrastructure.
Sidewalks need maintenance just as roads require upkeep.  Many times with pedestrian infrastructure the prevailing attitude is 'out of sight, out of mind'.

Building sidewalks and leaving them to become unusable through neglect and lack of landscape maintenance does nothing to perpetuate the legitimacy of sustainability.

Our cities must become pedestrian friendly.  Our public works department must take pedestrian life seriously with respect to budgets and upkeep.

Here in America we have such a long way to go to recognize the legitimacy of pedestrian life.  WE are too embedded in our seat belts.

Urban Landscape and Stormwater Integration

I always recommend integrating landscape and stormwater.  
Small SWMF feature incorporated into a landscape buffer.

Never could I understand why a developer or engineer would design a site with separate landscape and stormwater facilities, especially with the dire lack of urban vacant land.  

Such a waste.  

However some designers have their thinking caps on correctly and come up with some really awesome stormwater-landscape designs!  

Here is a photo of a small attenuation and treatment stormwater facility designed into the landscape buffer! 

The concept is quite simple and straightforward:
  • select a wetland tree or shrubs
  • build a berm around a small perimeter to receive rooftop of parking lot runoff
  • incorporate into the landscape design
  • achieve stormwater credit and landscape credit in the same amount of space.
Love to see more of this type design.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

True Urban Sustainability Must Be Foot Traffic Based

Motorized vehicles have put us on a non-sustainable path towards societal failure.

True sustainability incorporates complete integrated pedestrian design - not just sidewalks
We no longer walk like our ancestors.  Instead the obesity epidemic exponentially blossoms and life expectancy may be declining.

Peak oil has come and gone.  Price instability associated with petroleum products is here to stay and impact pocketbooks.

One significant incident of oil or gas supply disruption would rock the markets and ultimately our existence.  We are walking a fine line and possibly unprepared for what could happen.

The answer is simple.  Relearn the foot-centric community design of our grandparents generation.

We should be planing future development around the brilliant pedestrian concept of parks, shops, food and communities interconnected by sidewalks and bikeways instead of blueprinting our cities around roads.

Unfortunately our modern day automobile centered towns are ripe for catastrophic collapse because even in the best of pedestrian focused communities the infrastructure for functional bike and foot transportation is woefully inadequate.

For walking to catch on, the facilities to encourage safe, beautiful and efficient pedestrian movement must be built.

Design and build communities correctly around foot and bicycle traffic with efficient mass transit and the future will be amazingly prosperous.

Yet giving lip service through poor design gets us all nowhere quick.  That is where most of our cities are today.

For instance, Palm Coast has built many miles of bikeways and sidewalks.  You would think the area here is a pedestrian dream city.

We have all fooled ourselves into thinking our cities are eco-friendly because we build sidewalks.  Truth is though that most of these sidewalks are constructed as an after thought to roadways.

We will never approach credible sustainability with the thinking - design for automobiles first - and then design for foot traffic and bicycles as an afterthought.

Each day I walk to Public for our daily food.  The entire walk is about three miles give or take.  Every day I chuckle or curse, depending upon my mood, the weather and how heavy the groceries are when I come to this really nice crosswalk across Belle Terre Blvd.

The wide, nice sidewalk ends two meters away from the crosswalk button.

Yes, I am grateful for the button and crosswalk light.  But for a disabled person - or that matter any pedestrian - stepping across huge mounds of fire ants and sliding down a steep hill above a stormwater ditch to reach the cross walk button is more than a little absurd - and certainly sends the wrong message to would-be-pedestrians.

And this one example is just the tip of the huge, unseen by most, sustainability iceberg.

Few but the dedicated pedestrian really understand.

The planning or civil designer and plans reviewer drives a car home.  They have only limited understanding of anything foot traffic centric.  Many think sidewalks are the solution to community sustainability when sidewalks are only a piece to the overall sustainability puzzle.

Walking has opened my eyes to so much.  Give me a city or municipality that really wants to become eco-sustainable from an environmental, economic and social perspective and with pedestrian perspective and the right opportunity, and amazing prosperity could be created.

But few are willing to give up the automobile approach.

And so the cars will burn oil and our cities will sprawl outwards.

Until a petroleum supply event.

And then we will wonder why we didn't take pedestrian design seriously, sooner, while we are sliding into the stormwater ditch after attempting to press the crosswalk button.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Time to Focus on Sustainability

I have learned a lot being on death's doorstep with my dissected aorta.  My transportation is solely by walking now.  In becoming a pedestrian for the past three years I have had my eyes opened to urban green design issues.

I want to share those.

They may come slow as I am truly physically limited.  But I will share as I can.

Sustainability from a disabled person's perspective is wild!

Can't wait to share some of what I've learned walking along the roadside for the past three years.

Living in a world without a car, in a world designed for automobile life, is a trip.  I now do not think a automobile-centric lifestyle is a sustainable approach.

So over the next while - while I am still alive - I want to share some new ideas on how we can create real sustainable, urban green.

Hope you join me.


Friday, November 14, 2014

No more Florida Green Roofs - least by me anyway. #Marfan Syndrome #Aortic Dissection

I am dying - I guess we all are - but my dissected aorta is very difficult to live with.
Kevin's dissected aorta.
And so I am no longer able to pursue my passion of green roofs.  Jimmy Sterling with Sterling Roofing will be the person to talk to if you are interested in a green roof in Florida.  Jimmy's website is here.

This hurts me so bad.  In many ways.  Peace.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Florida Green Roofs - Know Thy Plants!

Florida summertime is hard on green roofs.  Not only are roofing membranes subject to intense weather challenges, green roof plants also are subject to intense biological and meteorological assaults.
Summer humidity may quickly kill Florida green roof succulents
We have posted notes about Black Rot fungus before here on this blog.  It never fails though that every summer persons will contact me asking why their succulents are turning brown, black or rotting.
Florida green roof succulents battle the Black Rot fungus every summer
The simple answer is to use Florida native plants (preferably evergreen species but a mix of deciduous plants will work too, depending on the green roof location in the state).  Here in Florida native green roof plants usually far outperform horticultural succulents.
Florida green roof succulents rarely become the dominant green roof plant and usually die out
Florida summers bring maximum humidity and maximum temperatures.  With daily afternoon rain showers most rooftops become pressure cookers, steaming green roof plants like vegetables in a hot wok.  If you do not intimately understand Florida roofs and how plants preform there (and this only comes from hands on learning, failures and successes are the best teachers) then your roof design may quickly end up devoid of plants as you stand there, helpless, watching the succulents literally dissolve in the heat and humidity and fungus attacks.

Tropical green roofs are a challenge.  We have listed some great green roof native plants here.

Know how your plants will perform in a pressure cooker before specifying them on a green roof here in Florida.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why Florida Green Roofs Are So Environmentally Important

Here in Florida surface water can directly flow into the drinking aquifer below the ground in many places.  Here is a video of storm water flowing down into the ground through a karst connection to underground caverns after a recent rainfall event.
Cleaning rainfall runoff with green roofs and other urban greening projects before the stormwater reaches our drinking water supplies makes good sense.

Avoidance of pesticides, herbicides and lawn fertilizers and chemicals is good not only for our environment but also supports a cleaner and healthier place to live in.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Florida Green Roof that Failed Over and Over Again - Missed Opportunity

Green roofs in Florida must be designed for a very unique set of rooftop variables.  Time and time again I see marvelous, well designed growing systems that work most everywhere else in the U.S. fail in Florida.
The first failure.  Check out the sprinkler erosion patterns in the green roof soil media.
Beware.  A successful Florida green roof is usually based not on the growing system.  Successful Florida Green Roofs are all about the rooftop plant design.  Other than hurricane resiliency and wind uplift issues, the green roof growing system could be a simple vertical coquina stone wall and with the right plants, be green and beautiful year around.

Remnants of the sedum plants that once covered the roof.  More irrigation erosions visible in the soil media.
I do not understand why this concept is so hard to understand by some.  But hopefully we can all learn from these 'hard' lessons.

Sedums work great north of Atlanta generally speaking.  The black death fungus commonly known as Southern Blight, Sclerotium rolfsii, that is pervasively present here in the Sunshine State, apparently wiped out the entire rooftop planting in a matter of weeks.

During hot, wet summer months, Southern Blight will turn many succulents to mush.  Want to learn more about this 'ScleROTium'?  Read more here.

Here in Florida there are a few 'constants' in green roofing design.  The underlying roofing assembly should keep the building water tight.  The entire roofing assembly and green roof system should be fire rated.  Additionally, the roof and green roof growing system should be wind uplift and tropical storm resilient.

A coquina rock wall can satisfy most of these requirements.  What I am trying to say is that here in Florida green roof plants can grow in any growing system installed on a roof.

What matters most is the type of plants chosen and how they interact with primary and secondary design variables.

The 10,000 square foot, green roof system shown here was a installed on the Aloft Hotel in Jacksonville, Florida by a well known national roofing company with a marvelous green roof line of products.

It has failed and failed and failed and was finally removed.

After the first attempt, perennial peanut, Arachis glabrata, was tried as a rooftop cover.  This design too was a failure. 
Such a waste of a beautiful green roof system.

Note the perimeter dead zone on the roof soon after the second round of plants were installed on the roof.  Within a short time the perennial peanut took off, but so did the Bidens app, Goldenrod, Dog-fennel, Ragweed, Pokeberry and extremely tall 'weeds'.

Hoses were draped over the edge of the roof to supply lots of water to plants destined to failure from day one.

Whirly bird sprinklers were set up on the roof but in the end did not save the plants, rather they contributed to washing out the soil media and atomizing-spraying what smelled like reclaimed irrigation water all over the swimming pool and garden patio area below.
Florida has the deadly seven H's.  Plants must be designed around each of them.

Hot summer, relentless photoactive radiation and no matter how much irrigation was applied the chosen plants dried up and turned brown.
This roof not only failed multiple times but also presented a serious liability and safety issue.  With rooftop temperatures approaching 150 degrees F, an afternoon breeze laden with a single cigar ash could have turned the entire structure into a great big torch.
Sometimes a green roof designer will mistake 50 inch annual rainfall amounts for being spread evenly over  four seasons.  Here in Florida it is not uncommon to see ten, twelve or sixteen week droughts without a single drop of rain.  
Again, the roof and growing system here are first class.  But in Florida, a successful green roof is designed around the plants.

I recommend talking to a nursery specializing in green roof plants.  Most nurseries know what drought tolerant plants to install on the ground, and the peanut might have worked well at the hotel site on the ground.

Yet, rooftop ecology needs are nowhere near the same as ground level landscape requirements.  Leaf surface temperature differences can be as high as 80-90 degree F greater on the roof than on the ground.  Find a green roof nursery specializing in green roof plants that has worked for years in your area.

Dead green roofs are fire hazards

Wind too can have so much more impact on the roof than on ground level.  Perennial peanut's success on the ground is due to a hyper-fast photosynthesis rate and biomass creation.  The plant grows fast and covers the ground quickly.  However because the plant does not possess significant spatial or time based separation and protection of the Calvin Cycle processes, roof level heat and wind can pull the water out of the plant faster than the vascular system can resupply.

Maybe as soon as rains started the plant may have 'greened' up (possibly), yet during the dry periods an unacceptable and serious fire hazard existed.

The landscaper had previous success with peanut on the ground.  But a Florida roof is unlike the ground.

Florida green roof design is all about the plants and not so much about the system.
Note too that because there is no handrail system, personal fall protection device attachments would have to be installed to protect maintenance workers.

Maintenance on a green roof should only be done by staff trained for working on a roof with personal fall protection equipment.  Never allow a landscaper on a roof unless they are properly trained and equipped with safety gear, including a hardhat, safety glasses, high visibility vest and personal fall protection gear for starters.

But even with the proper maintenance procedures and awesome green roof planting bed, someone never figured out that  it is 'all about the plants'.

Nice green roof system plus wrong plants equals dead green roof planting.

The fort in St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos, is built with solid coquina rock walls, continually buffeted by strong salt laden winds and exposed to intense sunlight.  But the walls support over fifty species of plants.  No soil media and no added irrigation.  Over time populations of native plants have made their self at home.

Castillo de San Marcos plant's teach us that here in Florida it is not so much about the rooftop growing system.  It is not so much about the soil media, although the wrong soil media will not support long term growth.  It is all about Right Plant Right Place on the green roof.

So if you want to design a Florida Green Roof you can learn via trial and failure over the years, or work with a plant person who understands rooftop ecology.

We are presenting a series of design articles covering the basics of rooftop plant design.

So follow our green roof modeling discussion on the website under their Tropical Green Roofs Section.  Part one of the discussion was published a couple months ago.  Part two of the design discussion is coming soon.

The green roof has been removed.  What an amazing opportunity missed.
And for a quick revisit of the seven H's check out some of the other posts about designing Florida Green Roofs.

Once more, Green roofs in Florida are harsh places – remember the 7 (or more) H’s:
  • High Humidity
  • Hot, hot heat
  • High desiccating winds (killer)
  • Hurricanes (not the football team)
  • Hard Freezes
  • Horrible temperature swings
  • Hurtful droughts
  • Harmful floods
The green roof planting system installed above was really amazing.  But forcing those plants though they may grow great elsewhere in the states, that are not suited for the 7H's, on a Florida green roof was not the right approach.

Then hiring a landscaper without a rooftop background to try and remedy the problem only magnified the issues leading to failure.

Thank goodness the landscapers did not fall off the roof.  Thank goodness a cigarette ash did not land on the dead vegetation.

It is not really about the system.  On a green roof, it is all about the plants.

A green roof is all about the plants.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Native Plant Patterns and Historical Rainfall Trends, Predictors of Green Roof Plant Success

Climate and weather patterns are the most significant determining factors of what plants will go on your green roof project and so, rather than turn on the TV I like to look at historical weather maps.
National Weather Service's Historical Rainfall Maps
Green roof plant modeling process considers light and wind to be the two primary design variables for factors affecting green roof plants.  Sunlight relevance to green roof plants and for that matter even ground level landscape designs is usually referred to in terms of 'Photosynthetically Active (and Reactive) Radiation, or PAR.  Too much PAR and the plants can burn, desiccate and wither.  Too little PAR and the plants fail to grow.

Along with PAR is the photosynthetic pathway of the green roof plant and a host of other survival mechanisms such as photoperiodism, phototaxicity and phototropism.

Wind impact too is a design variable that must be accounted for during green roof plant layout.  Strong desiccating winds can harm green roof plants with as much severity as PAR overload.  Wind can pull so much water out of a leaf that the plant's vascular system will be overwhelmed and interestingly, no matter how much green roof irrigation is added to the planting bed, the plants still die.

Micro-irrigation usually alleviates the stresses of long droughts and so on those green roofs, available rainfall impacts may not be as much a controlling design variable (though still extremely important) as wind and light.

Still I find it very interesting to study rainfall patterns across the U.S. and across the world.  Nature has laid out and sorted the different types of vegetation across our continent in a manner relating to wind light and also according to rainfall amounts.

Yes, it is a simple and very broad generalization to say that following Mother Nature's lead supports project landscape or green roof plant potential success.  

When I look at the above map depicting historical rainfall amounts published by the National Weather Service, I see three main, broad patterns.  The Northwest and the East (red and orange areas) receive most of the rainfall across the U.S.  Broad leaf dicots and C3 monocots fill these regions.  Florida and the Central Plains (green areas) receive less than average precipitation and are vegetated with great stretches of grasslands.  Here in Florida the pine flat woods which make up much of the state are filled with C4 ground cover grasses such as the Andropogons and Sporobolis species (if you live in Pensacola though you may want to choose wetland plants for your green roof due to all the rain they have been receiving lately).  Finally, the areas depicted by the least rainfall amounts (less than 20 inches per year - light blue geographic regions) are inhabited by cacti and other succulents.

So if I were designing a green roof for an area outside of Florida I'd think of this map first.

I may or may not end up following Mother Nature's lead after examine a complicated host of other factors, including client intent and if I choose not to follow then my green roof planting design better be spot on in producing the ecology my selected green roof plants will require.

The roof is a seriously harsh place to grow plants.  Use of Mother Nature's millennia of trial and error as guidelines for selecting green roof plants is smart green roofing.  It is hard to beat local native plants on the roof or across the ground.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Florida Low Impact Development, A Native Plant Bioswale Success!

The Lasalle Street storm water bioswale is growing into its third spring, a little over two years old.  I know because my aorta dissected during the middle of the project's schedule. Ugh.  A first year plant and project review can be read here while photos and several posts of the original planting project can be found here.
Native plant Bioswale, Lasalle St., Jacksonville, Third Spring's Growth

Today the array of native plants installed by a marvelous group of volunteers has grown into their own prime, lovely Florida grasses, native shrubs and the wonderful cypress tree, Taxodium spp.
The Native Plant Bioswale was originally planted in late 2011
Bioswales are rapidly becoming one of the more popular approaches to cleaning urban storm water runoff and most are using native plant species.  The University of Florida IFAS Extension Service has produced a helpful, informative publication on the design and benefits of urban bioswales for Florida cities.
The Bioswale has matured into a prime example of a successful low-impact development project

We think of plants on green roofs providing many benefits, including;

  • Sequestration of Carbon and mitigation of CO2 greenhouse gasses
  • Positive production of fresh oxygen daily
  • Cleaning rainfall runoff by filtering out particulate matter and attenuating flow rates
  • Uptake and sequestration of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous
  • Habita creation for small to large wildlife and birds
  • Beauty for us humans
  • Urban Heat Island Effect mitigation - cooling of the cities
  • Keeping our creeks, lakes and rivers clean
  • and so much more
Bioswales provide the same benefits as green roofs.  Bioswales are like a green roof but are located directly on the ground instead of a rooftop.
Bioswales, like Florida Green Roofs provide an array of ecological and environmental benefits

Plants are so amazing, especially Florida native plant species.  They work 24/7 to help keep our world clean and that is just the start of what they really do for us!
Lasalle Street Native Plant Bioswale's Third Year Growth

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tree Ring Music - Melody in the Urban Core

I love plants.  When I heard about tree ring music on the record player, I had to share it here.  And we do have trees on some of our green roofs, like the Grancy Greybeard atop the Breaking Ground Contracting Green Roof.  I like the Acer music so much.  Enjoy!
For a full listing of tree ring music see Bartholomäus Traubeck's website

Monday, May 5, 2014

Florida Green Roof Plant Root Structure, Horizontal Root Architecture

Green roof plant architecture is an important biomechanical component of all green roof design, construction, installation and maintenance activities.  In the end a green roof is first, foremost and all about the plants.
Florida green roof plant root architecture - beautiful horizontal root structure
Without the happy, thriving plants, there is no green roof.  Possibly a brown roof but not a green roof.

I think the Florida extensive green roof root structure depicted here in these photos is simply beautiful.
Green roof plant root architecture -  horizontal root structure growing into anchor
An understanding of green roof plant root architecture is one of those fundamental design talents that every green roof professional should possess.  Some of you will have learned about green roof plant root architecture from years of observation, hands-on planting and study of how green roof species grow, others through educational programs.  I examine root structure across green roofs every chance I get.  

My preference is shallow soil media and unimpeded horizontal growing space for green roof plant roots.  I do not like sectional barriers that may limit horizontal root growth and ultimately cause root circling-root bound growth patterns.
These grasses possess good green roof plant root architecture - not too aggressive but sturdy
Another reason I prefer unimpeded horizontal root growth opportunity on a green roof is because I believe green roof plants will over time, relocate themselves or their offspring to the best place on the roof for their particular species survival.  Yes, plants do move through root biomechanic mechanisms.  It is poor planning to restrict green roof plant root architecture any more than necessary.  Just think of how many times you may have pulled a plant from a nursery tray or pot with twisted and circling roots that have practically strangled the plant.
An anchor system may keep plants on a roof during tropical storms
In addition to catering to the green roof plant through design of open space for root growth to occur we like to provide the roots an anchor to grow into.  There are many different approaches one can take when providing an anchor, including cables, mesh, netting or fabric.  By permanently attaching the anchor material to the roof you create a green roof plant growing system that may be resilient to tropical storms or cyclone winds.
Unimpeded root growth prevents strangulation of green roof plants
Using this approach we have created green roofs that have stayed in place when blown with 130+ MPH winds.

The grasses in these photos show this principle in practice.  Using a small, mock up green roof growing system these plants have embedded their roots into a nylon fabric, creating an impressive anchoring form of root architecture and growing in a well defined, horizontal fashion.
A good green roof plant architecture will create a monolithic growing mat with plants anchoring each other
While some prefer deep plantings with roots reaching down vertically, we find horizontal root structure strategically places roots in an optimal position to absorb those frequent one half to two inch afternoon rainfalls here in Florida.  Rain water usually stays in the top inch or so of the green roof soil media.  With a horizontal growth pattern, green roof plants can take advantage of this rainfall where deep roots may have less rain reach down into deeper soil horizons.

If you are wondering, the photographed soil media contains less than 5% organic material.  The bark-looking chips are actually ground recycled rubber tires.  This is an experimental soil media, one we do not use on actual green roofs due to fire ratings.

Know your green roof plant architecture.  Remember, in the end a green roof is first, foremost and all about designing a growing system that keeps the green roof plants happy, healthy and surviving in the long term.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Intense Rooftop Aquaponics - Amazing Rooftop Garden!

Check out this impressive Rooftop Farm - Aquaponics - garden video.  It is amazing just how much food is being grown within a small rooftop area!

Efforts like these are truly inspirational and may hold the answer to feeding the world's future population.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Green Roof Roof Drains Reference Links

Sizing Roof Drains for Green Roofs (and All Roofs In Fact) is Important
I spent a good hour last night worrying about a new green roof we are working on, and how it would drain with the roof drains designed by the project architect.

Right away I will say that I am not qualified to design roof drains.  Sizing roof drainage is a function for a qualified architect or engineer, not a green roof plant person.  However, I still worry.

Living in Florida I have seen some heavy and prolonged downpours.  Last night in fact, across the panhandle area of western Florida, rainfall totals reached almost 24".  That is a lot of water to move off the roof.

Of course storms dumping huge quantities of water do not happen every day.  But I still want my green roofs to drain.  Most green roof plants do not like 'wet feet' so to speak and I certainly do not want the green roof plants to float off the roof.

Yes, I ultimately trust most architects and engineers on their designs for they are accomplished professionals.  But for those occasions, like last night I feel better after a second opinion.

Now I am not vouching for their accuracy, but there are several easy to use Roof Drain Sizing calculators published across the internet.  It only takes a few seconds once you have the approximate square footage of the roof you are wondering about to see just how many roof drains are needed for different areas of the country.

Do not use these for design, but like last night, when I was wondering if the architect got the design right, these sites may be a good second opinion.

So stop worrying and check out some of these Roofing Drain Sizing Calculators:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tropical Storm Season is Here, Is Your Green Roof Ready?

It is that time of year again.  Soon there may be cyclones in the Atlantic, wave after tropical wave forming off the African continent and storming westward across the Atlantic.

If your green roof has a parapet then you are lucky.  Most testing has shown parapets minimize wind damage to a green roof - though in a large hurricane, all bets are off.

Even if your green roof does not have a parapet it can still be designed to minimize tropical storm wind damage.

The video here is of a small green roof in Jacksonville, Florida on August 25th, 2008 when Tropical Storm Fay pummeled the northeast Florida area with over twenty inches of rain.  The video shows how the roof reacted to gusts up to 50 mph.  Wind speed was recorded using an ExTech anemometer.

The roof shown in the video does not have a parapet and is sloped.  The video illustrates how the irregular surface of he vegetated roof interrupts wind generated uplift that can damage asphalt shingle roofs.  The plants range in height from two inches to six inches and can be seen moving back and forth in response to the wind.


Wind racing across a flat surface can create lift - or a vacuum - and literally lift the shingles or roll roofing up off the decking below.

The plant habit acts to break the shear flow of air, creating turbulence and working against damaging uplift.  Planting more wind tolerant plants, such as some succulents or grasses may actually create wind breaks in a manner similar to the way a parapet would act.

Another important quality of a well designed green roof is the drainage factor.  The roof here is allowing a rapid drain of roughly 18" of rain over a 24 hour period without washing out. 

Monolithic hurricane mats used as the basis of the planting system allow for quick drainage of the stormwater and create a mechanism where plant roots can attached and anchor themselves to the roof all the while holding soil in place.  A well established root architecture  is important  for tropical green roofs subject to high winds and heavy downpours.

We will always deal with the 5 H's here in Florida - High Heat, High Humidity, Hard Frosts, Hurricanes and Hard Desiccating Winds, but with good green roof design your Florida Green Roof can hopefully withstand a severe storm, including tropical storms!

In the meantime, there are some precautions the green roof owner can take to prepare for tropical storm season (May 15th for the Pacific area and June 1 for the Atlantic regions).

At a minimum, we recommend;
  1. No large trees on a roof.
    1. Small shrubs and small trees may be used successfully depending upon the final design.  This may seem like a common-sense guideline but people try to put all types of tall, large trees on patio or garden roofs.  During a 130 mph cyclone, the tree may be blown over and may cause damage from the fall against the structure or to the street below.  It may also become airborne if the winds are strong enough.  Growing up in Hialeah I saw plenty of hurricanes come through our area and witnessed first hand the power of these storm events.
  2. Anything and everything on a roof should be permanently attached.  
    1. Walkways should be constructed from a permanently attached TPO, EDPM or other mat and permanently affixed to the roof.
    2. No loose chairs, tables or other items should be present.  If you wish to have a chair and table stay on a roof during a cyclone, they must be permanently attached.
    3. All green roof components must be permanently attached to the structure.
    4. Any trays, plastics, pots, containers or other green roof components must be permanently attached to the building structure.  Florida Building Code does not allow for loose items to be installed on a roof - they must be attached.
    5. Green Roof Irrigation components must be permanently attached to the roof.
  3. Make sure all tools and gardening utensils are picked up and put away.
    1. It is very easy to forget the pair of shears, scissors or pliers on a roof.  Remember what you were using and where you liad them.
  4. Plant selection should be focused on those species that have historically survived cyclone and hurricane incidents.  There are several good books available at most bookstores here in Florida on proper cyclone resistent landscaping and many resources on the web, such as the Brevard County Landscaping Guide for Hurricane Areas.
  5. Check on the NOAA National Hurricane Center website daily.  The NHC webpage is a wonderful resource, full of links to climatic data.
Always use a green roof design or green roof system already proven in actual field trials with hurricane simulation testing.  Watching a green roof blow off during a storm is an avoidable event.  Due diligence upfront and preparedness is important for green roofs in hurricane prone and cyclone impacted areas.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Green Roof Videos

Sometimes I can't sleep at night.  My titanium aortic valve makes a racket at night and the Dacron aorta feels like an overfilled balloon bouncing around in my chest.  Times like these I want to watch #GreenRoof videos!  So I made my own collection of my favorite green roof videos and now it is easy to watch them over and over.

Here is one of my favorites:

I can learn from the pros, like Dusty Gedge and others.  I can also watch others and learn what not to do - like stand on a roof without rails and risk falling off to certain broken somethings or worse.

I am amazed at just how many greenroom websites include photos of obvious OSHA violations where staff are leaning over the edge of rooftops high in the air without personal fall protection equipment.  Safety First on Green Roofs!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these videos and also do not fall off your green roof! I will be adding more and changing out other videos on a frequent basis.  Please email me links to your favorite green roof or living wall videos and I will try and include those too and give you credit for the link or video if you wish - send the links and comments here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Beat Your Florida Green Roof Wind Impacts With Rich Coastal Biodiversity

The very best way to understand how your coastal green roof (and for that matter any green roof) will preform is to visit the site as often as possible before the plants are installed.

I always say 'wind is the biggest killer of green roof plants' and there have been many posts about wind impacts in this blog over the years, including;

Wind and light are two of the most important green roof design variables.  We at MetroVerde consider light and wind to be the two primary green roof design variables to take into consideration when developing ideas for a green roof.

The very best way to know whether or not wind is going to impact your project is to walk the site as often as possible, in the morning and throughout the day and in the evening.   Wind impacts fluctuate depending on a number of factors, including time of day.

Sunlight, air temperature and gradients and many other variables can influence air movement.

My teen daughter and I took a walk along the Atlantic coastal beach this morning and the and was blowing!  The pier's flag was standing straight out and whipping back and forth and we estimated the sped to be about 15 meter's per second - almost 35 miles per hour.

Most any plants are going to suffer in winds that fast and many broad leaf plants will quickly desiccate out and possibly die, especially as salt deposition from the ocean spray coats the leaves, stems and flowers.

Over the years we have worked on developing a green roof model that identifies those plant families with good wind resistance.

A wind resistant plant will possess either light-time activated or embedded spatial separation and protection mechanisms for Calvin Cycle processes.

Parapets are always preferred as wind breaks but architects sometimes develop client-directed roof plans with little or no parapets.  In those cases we must use wind resistant plants to serve as living parapets or wind breaks to the inner green roof.

Thank goodness there are many plants that can survive the vicious onslaught presented by salt spray and winds though.
Florida Green Roofs, coastal dunes are rich in biodiversity with wind and salt tolerant plants perfect for #GreenRoofs

Which ones?

The very best was to know whether or not wind is going to impact your green roof project and to find out what plants can survive these blistering winds is to regularly walk the project site.  

At first glance the coastal beaches may seem to just be 'green' with sand spurs. Ha!  Closer looks will show just how complex plant biodiversity on the beach dune actually is.  There are many, many species adapted to those wicked, punishing salty winds.

The very best was to know whether or not wind is going to impact your green roof project and to find out what plants can survive these blistering winds is to regularly walk the project site. 

Time to go for a walk.