- An alternative to traditional roofing, extensive green roofs are contained ecosystems consisting of a drainage layer, a thin media profile which is planted with hardy plant species. Extensive green roof plants must maintain multiple functions while growing in a highly aggregate media at a depth of equal to or less than 15.25 cm. The shallow media depth weighs less and can often be used when retrofitting an existing building with a green roof. Maximizing functions such as stormwater mitigation requires designing for the purpose of the green roof goal and for the maintenance plan that will ensure plant health in extreme environments. However, our understanding of these complex and dynamic ecosystems on rooftops is still very limited and management of green roofs is often an afterthought, rarely taking into account regional differences in climate.
The establishment period of an extensive green roof is a critical time to promote plant coverage, which often requires irrigation during dry periods. The Pacific Northwest (PNW) climate is challenging for green roof management because plants experience cool wet conditions for much of the year yet must survive warm, nearly rainless summers. However, extensive green roof maintenance is generally minimal unless aesthetics are the primary goal. Maintenance in the second year and the years following includes irrigation during dry periods to keep plants healthy or to enhance green roof function. The removal of competitive weeds and tree seedlings is also recommended throughout the life of the green roof.
Extensive green roofs are increasingly being used to help improve stormwater management. The vegetative portion of an extensive green roof design is often steered by the structural load that a building can hold along with availability of local products and materials such as media and plants. A lightweight, high aggregate media planted with Sedum species and other succulents is often selected as these components have been successful and work well together. However, with the drive to increase the functional role of extensive green roofs, media and plant selection must be further investigated to fully understand how we can optimize green roof efficiency—in our case, stormwater management efficiency, the most requested function of commercial green roofs.
In this study green roof plants were provided adequate irrigation in the first summer and throughout establishment. At the start of the second summer, we tested how the eight taxa performed under three different management regimes in the PNW: (i) non-irrigated, ii) irrigated in compliance with Portland, Oregon's floor area ratio (FAR) bonus requirement and iii) according to out horticultural decision resulting in the highest watering regime. We also measured weed pressure across the irrigation treatments. We selected plant taxa based on their potential functional attributes (habitat quality, aesthetic quality, stormwater management proficiency) as well as their availability through the regional nursery trade.
Plants selected were Camassia quamash, Cistus creticus ssp creticus 'Lasithi', Delosperma cooperi, Eriophyllum lanatum var lanatum, Festuca idahoensis var roemeri, Iris chrysophylla, Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco' and Sisyrinchium idahoense. Within selected seasons the mean relative growth rate (MRGR) of each plant was analyzed and survivorship was recorded throughout this study.
Throughout the first year of establishment, all plants grew and survival was high. Exceptions were that I. chrysophylla declined in mean relative growth rate (MRGR) and D. cooperi had a twenty five percent loss in survival during a cold winter spell.
Plant growth and overall plant performance varied considerably among taxa throughout establishment and across the summer irrigation treatments. Weed pressure also varied across treatments. The highest watering regime provided the greatest plant survivorship and plants generally had a positive increase in MRGR. Exceptions were F. idahoensis var roemeri, which decreased in MRGR and S. spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco' which did not change in size. The irrigation regime compliant with the City of Portland provided increased plant survivorship over the non-irrigated regime, yet plant aesthetics were less for the same species compared to the highest watering regime. Plant survivorship in the non-irrigated regime included succulents, D. cooperi and S. spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco', and the summer-dormant bulb, C. quamash. Plant aesthetics within each irrigation regime varied considerably and mean aesthetic ratings declined as the summer season progressed.
These results suggest that tailoring green roof management more precisely to plant choices and the regional environment will improve function and reduce overall costs. Maintenance costs are less (water costs and weeding labor) with a non-irrigated green roof however, plant aesthetics are compromised when plants experience three to five days without water.
Overall the collected runoff from rainfall throughout this study, planted green roofs retained 45% of roof runoff verses 40.5 % retained by media only roofs (p< 0.001). Of the significantly different comparisons (α = 0.05), the vegetated plots had a higher mean retention of runoff over media only roofs nine times out of ten. Green roof runoff retention varied considerably throughout the collection period depending on season, rainfall amounts and saturation of media. Climatic variations and increased plant growth may explain these varying results of stormwater runoff retention of the green roofs.
Results from this study suggest that we need to explicitly design green roofs to maximize the ecological goal, which in the case of this research is to mimic nature and allow for rainwater infiltration, retaining a percentage of runoff and detaining the rest so that it enters into stormwater systems at a manageable speed after the peak of the storm. The vegetative layer plays an important role in mitigating stormwater runoff; proper design influenced by regional climate, rooftop microclimates and plant needs as well as the subsequent maintenance regimes will optimize the intended green roof function while providing a suite of additional benefits.