Lewisburg House and Garden Club has been distributing sunflower seeds to Lewisburg Elementary since 1959. May 12 marked the first year that Ronceverte Elementary received seeds and participated in the project.
“The ladies came in and gave a very nice mini lesson on how to grow the sunflowers. My students are very excited to participate,” Ronceverte Elementary School second grade teacher Deborah W. Johnson.
The purpose of the volunteer project/friendly competition is to inspire students to become the next generation of plant and agricultural scientists, to teach nature’s cycle, to interact with the members of the club, to call attention to the value of feeding the area’s birds, and support teachers in delivering an interactive learning opportunity. It’s also a great way to get students and adults out and into the garden working side by side.
It takes 75 to 90 days, or more, for a sunflower to mature. Giant sunflowers are grown from seed. If you are growing them, to get them as big as possible, it is recommend spacing them a full three feet apart, so the plants do not shade each other.
A few tips for growing sunflowers: when the plant leaves turn brown and the flower heads droop, the plant has reached its full maturity and is done. You can pull the plant up and store it until the contest in late September, or you can leave it in the ground, but it could get damaged by birds or the elements. Cover your flower head with a mesh onion bag, loose burlap or a paper bag to protect it.
Site and soil preparation are critical. Sunflowers need six-to-eight hours of direct sunlight per day – the more the better if you are trying to grow them to their maximum potential. Choose a well-drained location, and prepare your soil by digging an area of about 2-3 feet in circumference to a depth of about two feet. Sunflowers are heavy feeders and deplete the soil more than many other crops – especially if you are growing them to reach a massive height, so the nutrient supply must be replenished each season. Sunflowers have long taproots that can grow four feet below the surface! Feed and water regularly. Be prepared to stake them so they have support, or plant them close to a fence or a building.
“We really are proud to share this fun project with Ronceverte Elementary School,” stated Emily Shirey, Garden Club member. Look for pictures in September/October to see who has the largest sunflower.