Planting a Birdhouse Rooftop Garden

Planting a Birdhouse Rooftop Garden

Part of Ep. 1705 Raising the Roof

Using succulent plants, sedums and moss, Jan Zaborski from Winter Greenhouse in Winter, Wis., shows how to plant a rooftop garden on top of a functional birdhouse.

Premiere date: Jul 22, 2009

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
I just love this! I think this would look absolutely perfect on any tree in my backyard. I think any bird would be proud to live in it. I love the color, and the way it brightens up the woodland. We are in northern Wisconsin, about two miles north of Winter, Wisconsin, at Winter Greenhouse. We are going to learn to make our own bird house with a living roof. We're even going to use plants like this little yellow ice plant. I'm with Jan Zaborski. I understand that you're the chief instructor here that's going to teach me how to do this.

Jan:
That's right.

Shelley:
Hey, I'm a good student! Tell me a little about Winter Greenhouse. How long has this place been here?

Jan:
Winter Greenhouse has been here over 20 years. And I've been here over ten. My job here is to create unique containers and planters using a variety of plants unique to their use.

Shelley:
So this could be-- Okay, first of all, I think of this as a container but is this a real birdhouse? Could a bird live in it?

Jan:
It could. They're out of cedar, so they can withstand the watering. They won't warp. They won't rot.

Shelley:
They can handle winters in Winter.

Jan:
It can handle the winters, exactly.

Shelley:
What would I do first, then? I've got a good cedar birdhouse here.

Jan:
It is built with at least a one-inch lip on there. We will fill that with moss that we've collected in the swamps in the fall.

Shelley:
Locally. This is sphagnum moss.

Jan:
It is. We let it dry out. When we're going to use it, we re-hydrate it

Shelley:
This has been soaking in just plain water.

Jan:
Right, just squeeze that out and lay it on your roof. Fill it in, all the way to the top. Make sure it's packed in there pretty good.

Shelley:
So, you really want a thickness. You're like two inches, at least.

Jan:
Right. This moss holds enough nutrients to sustain the life of the plants for the season.

Shelley:
No soil, then?

Jan:
No soil is needed.

Shelley:
Let's talk about some of the plants that we would use on something like this.

Jan:
Because it's going to be out in the sun we're using a variety of sedums and succulents that can withstand the sun and the drought. We're looking for plants that will spread and fill it out.

Shelley:
Like this ice plant that's drought tolerant.

Jan:
It is. That'll be a nice thing, because it'll trail there. We'll use thymes, because they fill in and make a nice green carpet on the roof.

Shelley:
Sure, that'll just cover it.

Jan:
We want things that are going to add texture height, and different colors.

Shelley:
This is beautiful.

Jan:
There are so many plants that you can use. But you want something that spreads.

Shelley:
Small things, drought tolerant, full sun. How do you get them in there if there's no soil?

Jan:
You can either take them apart, from the plant just kind of loosen them from their soil.

Shelley:
Just from the plant itself.

Jan:
Make a hole, tuck it in.

Shelley:
That's all?

Jan:
And then put the moss back around that.

Shelley:
Okay, let's see, I take one like that.

Jan:
Right, that's a hens and chicks. That's really a nice plant, because it has lots of texture and color to it.

Shelley:
See, I think you are teaching me! I can do this!

Jan:
Good job! You're hired!

Shelley:
Let's look at one that's a little farther along. This is already looking so neat. Would you call this finished, as far as planting?

Jan:
No, we started out with things to cover it and added trailing things at the corners.

Shelley:
Okay, we've got some trailing. We've got the thyme in here, so that's going to spread. These empty spaces, what might you put in here?

Jan:
I would use the hens and chicks for a couple of reasons. One, because they're really sun and drought tolerant. They're going to grow. They're going to get babies and surround that. They're going to end up looking something like that.
Shelley:
You're going to put hens and chicks on a birdhouse! I'm not even going to go with that joke, I guess! I'll behave. You would just tuck these in all over the place. Here you've got a finished product. I just love this! How old is this one?

Jan:
We planted that about six months ago.

Shelley:
So it really has filled in. You've got the creeping thyme. We've got things hanging off the roof.

Jan:
Blooming, as well.

Shelley:
You've got the ice plant blooming here.

Jan:
We've got color and texture with the Angelina.

Shelley:
This is Angelina, the yellow? That's beautiful.

Jan:
We even have one here in the corner that will eventually bloom with a little white flower to add even more color.

Shelley:
This is getting kind of unwieldy. Will the birds not like this maybe?

Jan:
Trim off these dead things and shorten it up.

Shelley:
So is that about the only maintenance you do is trim it as it gets leggy or crowded?

Jan:
You'll have to water it. Once you plant it, you'll want to water it and keep it in the shade for a couple days until it gets established.

Shelley:
When it's a baby.

Jan:
During the season, water it when it feels dry. Test the moss there.
Shelley:
Stick your finger in it.

Jan:
If it's dry, water it.

Shelley:
About once a week, more in hot weather.

Jan:
If it's out in the sun and the wind.

Shelley:
What about food?

Jan:
You want to fertilize it once a week with a water soluble fertilizer. And just the trimming is the only other maintenance, really, that's necessary.

Shelley:
We're in Zone 3. Cold. Will this survive out in the winter?

Jan:
It will if you put it in a protected area and mulch it well.

Shelley:
Cover it completely with leaves, straw, or something. I've got critters in my yard that might think it's a great place to live. Could I put it in a garage?

Jan:
Yes, but put it in a sunny window and just water it once a month, just enough to keep it alive.

Shelley:
Could I take it in the house in the wintertime?

Jan:
You could. Again, keep it in a sunny window and maybe put it in the sink or bathtub when you water it so it doesn't get all over your furniture.

Shelley:
This would be gorgeous on the coffee table.

Jan:
A good conversation piece.

Shelley:
I can't wait to try something like this. I think the birds are going to love it.

Shelley:
Thank you, Jan.

Jan:
Thank you.

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