Sunflower garden — what to plant next
I am a novice gardener. I have begun a sunflower garden at our local elementary school ( approx 40’ x 10’). I am hoping the sunflowers will be a nice welcome back for the students in the fall. I am intrigued by the concept of no till gardening, but know very little about it. After the sunflowers have bloomed and died, do you have recommendations for what to do with this bed? Is there a cover crop to plant for winter/spring that may enhance the soil so we can plant sunflowers again in the summer? How many years can/should we plant sunflowers in that same bed? Do you have a recommendation for something easy to grow in the same space that the children can watch bloom in the early spring?
Hi- planting a cover crop is a great idea. It will protect the soil overwinter, improve soil structure, increase fertility, store carbon and provide teachable moments for teachers and students. We recommend a mixture of grass (grain) and legumes . Planting annual rye or wheat with crimson clover and/or hairy vetch would make for a great cover crop. Crimson clover is stunning from the end of April through mid-May when it's in bloom (crimson flowers). Hairy vetch is a vining plant that produces attractive purple flowers and blooms a little later.
Plant the cover crop seed in Sept. or early Oct. you would cut it to ground level after the clover blooms in mid-May. It will make a lot of plant residue that can be left in place as a mulch for the sunflowers. You can direct sow sunflower seeds or plant transplants through the residues. Or you can cut the cover crop and cover the entire area with heavy duty weed barrier (e.g., Dewitt's "Sunbelt" weed barrier) to control weeds and cover crop weed growth until you are ready to plant. These are no-till methods (minimal soil disturbance).
You can grow sunflowers continuously in the bed. Please read the information we have on cover crops: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/cover-crops-protect-and-improve-your-soil
You may also want to contact the University of Maryland Extension office in
Derwood to find out if Master Gardeners are available to advise you on your project.