Milan, Illinois
Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Seeds Shipped To Your Door

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What is a "Green Roof"?

The print in italics was furnished by The Green Roof Research Project at Michigan State University

Simply put, a green roof is a flat rooftop covered with vegetation.  There is a growing trend in many large cities such as Chicago to convert large flat rooftops to a green roof.  However, it is not quite as simple as it sounds.  There are several factors to take into consideration such as structural integrity, fire hazard, foot traffic, substrate, climate, etc.

Green roofs involve growing plants on rooftops, thus replacing the vegetated footprint that was destroyed when the building was constructed. Germany is widely considered the leader in green roof research, technology and usage. It is estimated that 12% of all flat roofs in that country are green and the German green roof industry is growing 10% to 15% per year. Modern green roofs can be categorized as ‘intensive’ or ‘extensive’ systems depending on the plant material and planned usage for the roof area. Intensive green roofs utilize a wide variety of plant species that may include trees and shrubs, require deeper substrate layers (usually > 10 cm (4 in)), are generally limited to flat roofs, require ‘intense’ maintenance, and are often park-like areas accessible to the general public. In contrast, extensive roofs are limited to herbs, grasses, mosses, and drought tolerant succulents such as Sedum, can be sustained in a shallow substrate layer (< 10 cm (4 in)), require minimal maintenance, and are generally not accessible to the public.

The use of several types of Sedum species has become popular as they do not require a deep substrate, are drought tolerant, heat tolerant, and for the most part evergreen, thereby not inducing a fire hazard.

Establishing plant material on rooftops provide numerous ecological and economic benefits including stormwater management, energy conservation, mitigation of the urban heat island effect, increased longevity of roofing membranes, as well as providing a more aesthetically pleasing environment to work and live. The mitigation of storm water runoff is considered by many to be the primary benefit because of the prevalence of impervious surfaces in urban areas. The rapid runoff from roof surfaces can exacerbate flooding, increase erosion, and may result in raw sewage that is discharged directly into our rivers. The larger amount of runoff also results in a greater quantity of water that must be treated before it is potable. A major benefit of green roofs is their ability to absorb storm water and release it slowly over a period of several hours. Green roof systems have been shown to retain 60-100% of the storm water they receive. In addition, green roofs have a longer life-span than standard roofs because they are protected from ultraviolet radiation and the extreme fluctuations in temperature that cause roof membranes to deteriorate. Furthermore, the construction and maintenance of green roofs provide business opportunities for nurseries, landscape contractors, irrigation specialists, and other green industry members while addressing the issues of environmental stewardship.

Will green roofs ever catch on in the United States like they have in Europe? Several barriers to widespread acceptance exist such as a lack of awareness regarding green roofs, potentially higher installation costs, limited quantifiable data pertaining to the benefits they provide, no technical information on how to build them, and a lack of government incentives or tax breaks. However, all of these problems are currently being addressed. These barriers are not insurmountable, as the same barriers have been overcome in Germany. In the U.S. the concept of green roofs is just now being introduced and will likely become more common in the future.

Our nursery has supplied flats of sedum species to several landscape designers that have been working on experimental designs and installations.  If you are interested in experimenting with this concept, contact us for more information.


A few that have been used for this purpose:

Bertram Anderson 

  Dragon's Blood   

   Gold Teardrop


  Chubby Fingers (sedum album)