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.

1 comment:

Ansel Marvin said...

Nice analysis of the grass. I have seen roofs with actually gardens and grass lawns grown on top. What type of seed do you suggest using?

Ansel Marvin | Ace Roofing