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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - May 20, 2013

From: South Boston , MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Container Gardens
Title: Planter boxes on a roof deck in Boston MA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What will grow in planter boxes on a roof deck in Boston ma? We are planning to make our own planters to sit on the framing "outside" our deck rail. We have 4 ft from the rail to the edge of the house so the boxes will likely be about 2 ft wide and 4-5 ft long. They will get extreme sun exposure (no shade all day) and conditions can get pretty windy (2 blocks to ocean in south Boston). Of corse also hoping for something with limited maintenance as it will be outside the actual railing so not fully accessible. Hoping to mask the framing cross boards that are exposed a bit. Planters can be 2 ft deep at most. And we wouldn't want anything to high to obstruct the water view. (Planter depth can be variable. Height including planter box ideally 42")

ANSWER:

First, please read this previous Mr.Smarty Plants answer on growing in pots up high. 

Next, read our How-To Article on Container Gardening with Native Plants. And please note, we don't recommend anything except plants native not only to North America but also to the area in which those plants grow naturally; in your case, Suffolk Co., MA.

Then, watch this video of our Director of Horticulture, Andrea DeLong Amaya, on Container Gardening.

Finally, let us say we think this whole idea is impractical. Consider:

1. Engineering problems. You are putting heavy weight on a surface not designed for that.

2. Drainage. Any plants in an enclosed situation must have water and must also have arrangements for that water to drain. We envision early problems with rotting wood in your roof structure.

3. Heat. All day every day sun would probably not even permit a cactus to survive.

4. Cold. In the Winter, there would only be a thin layer of framework and an inch or so of soil between the roots, the most vulnerable part of a plant to freezing, and possibly zero temperatures.

5. Why do you even want to do this? You have already said you have a stunning water view.

 

 

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