Skip to content

Table of Contents

Green roofs are packed full of incredible benefits – they reduce GHG emissions, save on energy consumption and provide much needed urban habitation. But without the right plants and vegetation cover, none of these benefits would be applicable. 

So we’ve picked the best plants for a green roof in a UK climate. Anything that thrives in largely damp, grey conditions (with the occasional week of sun in the summer) is high up our list. 

How to choose the Best Green Roof Plants

Ultimately the:

  • Size
  • Durability
  • Purpose – both aesthetic and otherwise

Of your green roof should dictate the best plants for it. If you’re new to this our guide(s) to building a DIY green roof would be a good starting point. And it’s worth checking out the type of green roof you’re looking for. 

If you’re less concerned by reducing GHG emissions or your energy bills, but keen to get the pleasing aesthetic and wildlife benefits, you can focus on attractive wildflowers and sedums. Plants that have less impact on stability, stormwater management and your roof’s life expectancy.

They just look beautiful. And sometimes that’s all that matters. 

But if you’re looking to build a green roof for the financial and environmental benefits, you’ll be better off focusing on hardier flora. Plants whose environmental benefits – generally – outweigh their aesthetics. And of course some lucky species have it all. 

But we generally advocate a combination of the two. We want roofs that brighten up urban spaces whilst reducing our impact on the planet. And you can do both. 

9 Best Green Roof Plants for Extensive Roofs

Most people looking to build a DIY green roof go for a lower maintenance extensive green roof. And whilst extensive roofs are cheaper and more self-sufficient, there are limitations on what plants can survive and thrive based on:

  • How much substrate they need. Extensive roofs are lighter and hold less soil than their intensive green roof counterparts.
  • Size. Extensive roofs can’t support huge plants due to the lighter-weight nature of their infrastructure
  • Maintenance. You want plants that don’t require much watering as extensive roofs aren’t generally accessible. 
Key Feature
Gold Sedum
Incredibly hardy, drought tolerant perennial
White Stonecrop
Creates a lightweight, sprawling cover on a roof
Widow’s Cross
Very hardy. Can survive almost any weather conditions.
Two Row Stonecrop
Very hardy. Can survive almost any weather conditions.
Birdsfoot Trefoil
Perennial plant that attracts bees
Hardy, low maintenance plants that can grow between rocks
Aesthetically beautiful, cooking (obviously) and perennial
Aenoium Arboreum
Hardy, survives in minimal soil and can tolerate shade
Aster Alpinus
Hardy, perennial wildflower

Obviously these plants would work on an intensive roof too. But you can afford to be a little more extravagant. 

Gold Sedum

Gold sedum – gold moss or sedum acre – is an incredibly hardy, drought tolerant evergreen perennial that forms a mat of bright, beautiful yellow flowers.

An incredibly low maintenance sedum that grows well in dry – medium, moderately fertile soil. Perfect for lazy gardeners.

  • £14.47
  • 500 seeds
  • Delivery time usually around a week

White Stonecrop

White stonecrop – sedum album – is a herbaceous perennial with a sprawling growth habit. Perfect for spreading a lightweight covering on a rooftop. 

An individual plant won’t spread more than two feet and, like most sedums, it’s particularly hardy. It’s pretty white flowers are very attractive to pollinators. Ideal for encouraging wildlife habitation. 

Bright green in nature until the Autumn, when the green leaves transition to a reddish-brown colour. Hence the name coral carpet. It’ll tolerate almost any kind of soil, but does better in the sharp-drained variety, only requiring very occasional, substantial watering. 

  • £10.99
  • 5000 seeds

Widow's Cross

Widow’s Cross is an annual (or evergreen) perennial with attractive pink and light green stems. A larger sedum that can rise to a foot in height, it provides some much needed vertical variation to your living roof without significantly increasing the weight.

Like most sedums it’s very hardy and requires little maintenance, growing well in generally dry, lower quality soil. Although they do prefer full sun exposure. 

  • £13.99
  • 50+ seeds

Two Row Stonecrop

Two Row Stonecrop – Sedum Spurium – is a mat forming sedum that creates a carpet of reddish hued flowers in the later summer months. 

Soil-wise they grow best in moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sunlight. 

On the smaller size height wise – only growing to around 6 inches – this low maintenance, low weight sedum creates a burgundy coloured ground cover. A perfect lightweight mat cover for a rooftop.

  • £13.99
  • 100 seeds

Birdsfoot Trefoil

A member of the pea family with beautiful yellow, slipper-like flowers, Birdsfoot Trefoil can add a nice element of vertical variation to your roof, as it grows upwards of 12 inches. 

The rich, egg-yolk yellow flowers lend themselves to evocative nicknames such as ‘eggs and bacon‘ and ‘hen and chickens.’

This generally low-creeping perennial plant is a valuable source of food for a number of pollinating insects. Perfect for biodiverse, or wildlife focused extensive roofs. 

  • £5.76
  • 10g (c. 100 seeds)


Sempervivums – houseleeks – are hardy, alpine plants whose name literally translates as always alive. A reference to their tolerance to extreme temperatures and droughts.

And really this is what makes sempervivums so perfect for living roofs. Their ability to survive the winter months, lightweight nature and lack of maintenance make these gorgeous succulents green roof essentials. 

Dry, low fertile soil help these low-growing plants thrive. So if your roof is well-drained and in full sun, sempervivums are a must-have. 

  • £34.99
  • Collection of 30 plug plants
  • Each plug is 35mm x 50mm


Oregano is a lightweight, perennial herb that thrives in direct sunlight. 

It’s pretty rose-purple or white flowers fit perfectly onto a green roof and they thrive in direct sunlight. So if your roof is primarily shaded, oregano won’t thrive. 

You will need to trim oregano as it reaches around 4 inches in height. This encourages bushier growth and prevents it reaching for the sunlight.

Ultimately oregano is a hardy, pretty little plant that requires a little maintenance, but, like most herbs, is relatively self-sufficient.

  • £6.50
  • 3 x medium plug plants
  • Perfect for slotting into a newly formed green roof

Aenoium Arboreum

Aenoium Arboreum – dark purple houseleek tree – are evergreen succulents with succulent, fleshy leaves that can grow up to 1.5m in height. 

So you’d need to be confident in your green roof’s stability as it’s a much larger, heavier plant. 

If grown in full sunlight (a must for maximising growth and quality) the foliage turns such a dark purple, it almost looks black. An incredibly dramatic tree. 

Soil-wise it’s best grown in dry – medium moisture, well-drained soil. And whilst they’re (sort of) drought tolerant, they need more consistent watering than other succulents as they have a shallow root system

But this is what makes them perfect for green roofs. 

  • £14.47
  • 100 seeds

Aster Alpinus

Aster Alpinus – Alpine Aster – is a perennial flower that thrives in full sun and well-drained, low moisture soil. 

Because of their alpine nature, they’re incredibly hardy plants with beautiful flowers. Daisy-like in nature. 

So if your roof gets full sunlight, drains well and doesn’t have particularly high quality soil (but you’re in desperate need of a little colour) then Aster Alpinus is an excellent option. 

  • £3.20
  • 10 seeds

Best Grass for a Green Roof

Grass’s hardy nature, vertical variation and ability to attract pollinators and create habitation for wildlife make them the perfect accompaniment to a green roof project. Here are a couple of our favourites. 

Carex Nigra

Carex Nigra – black sedge – is a strikingly black grass that stands around 40-50cm tall. Again, a lovely bit of vertical variation on a green roof. 

You’ll thank us when you see it. Especially as it provides welcome shelter for wildlife. 

This perennial plant generally favours wet conditions. generally more associated with wetlands. So if your soil type is dry – and the rest of the plants you have grow best in dryer conditions – it’s probably not the friendliest mix.

Albeit a beautiful grass.

  • 1kg of seeds
  • Approx 1000 seeds / g

Carex Flacca

Carex Flacca – Blue Sedge – is a slow-creeping, evergreen sedge that stands around the same height as Carex Nigra. 40-50cm.

It can spread really quickly – in some cases this makes it absolutely perfect for a green roof. It does mean you may need to pay slightly closer attention to maintenance.

But it’s bright green leaves and blueish fronds form a picturesque ground cover. They generally thrive in medium – wet soil, but are pretty adaptable and – like most grasses – are drought tolerant. 

  • £15.99
  • 2 x plug plants
  • c. 20cm expected height

Green Roof Plant FAQs

It completely depends on the type of green roof you have. 

Extensive green roofs are much more lightweight and focus more on the environmental benefits. Intensive roofs can be fully interactive gardens. 

As such intensive roofs can accommodate almost any plant or tree. Extensive roofs – by far the most common – tend to use smaller, lower maintenance plants like succulents, sedges and small shrubs or trees. 

Again this also depends on the type of roof you have, the climate and the types of plants.

But generally extensive roofs are low maintenance and only require watering a few times a year. Sedges and succulents are very low maintenance, drought-tolerant plants. 

However if you have larger, more intensive plants and foliage, you may need to water more frequently. Especially at the beginning of the roof and plants lifecycle to help them bed in.

Intensive roofs have been known to support upwards of 500kg / m².

Extensive roofs wouldn’t weigh anymore than 150kg / m². And even that is pushing it. Most extensive green roofs won’t weight more than 60kg / m².

But as always it’s worth checking with a professional if you’re unsure. Ultimately this is the only part of a DIY green roof where we absolutely recommend professional assistance. 

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp

Recommended Posts


  1. […] with extensive roofs are much hardier than their intensive counterparts. Checkout our overview of the best plants for a green roof to see why plants make such a huge difference to […]

  2. […] Green roof plants typically don’t require a lot of nutrients. A substrate with too high a nutrient level will cause plants to grow too large too quickly, too quickly. […]

  3. […] When planting for a green roof, it’s important to remember which type of green roof system is being installed. An intensive green roof (commercial buildings) often contains a deeper soil medium, which means larger plant groupings like vegetable and herb gardens, shrubs, and even trees. Below is a list of ideal plants for intensive green roofs from Green Roof Guide: […]

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *