Growing media (substrate) is a fundamental part of a green roof, providing water, nutrients and support to plants. However, little research has reviewed how it affects plant performances in different climatic regions. This study aims to analyse published research on green roof growing medium across world’s climate zones. Findings are structured according to Köppen–Geiger climate classification, aiming to investigate the prevalence of research conducted in different climate zones. Results from full-scale studies and laboratory or greenhouse experiments were reviewed. The later were included as they provide systematic knowledge on the effect of individual factors on system performances although cannot provide climate specific information. Studies discussed effects of major substrate components and depths on plant survival and establishment using standard test procedures. Results showed that most research in the subject were in temperate (group C climate classification), continental (group D) and dry climates (group B), respectively. Considerable number of investigations was conducted in controlled laboratory or greenhouse environments. Based on the results, future green roof research and guidelines should consider climate specifications of the region in designing growing medium, depths and attribute of green roof substrates in order to ensure enhanced plant performance. Especially, for more fragile but less investigated dry climate, considerations should be made to tackle heat fluctuations and drought stress by enhancing water holding capacity and thermal isolation of the substrate. To move forward, sustainable building solutions as a part of future urban forms, climate-adaptive green roof systems should be included into future research, practice and guidelines.