Growing Sweet Corn

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on October 13, 2010

Sweet corn is one of those things that takes some room to grow correctly.  If you have a small garden, you should probably pass on this vegetable.  If, on the other hand, you have some room, it is not difficult to grow.

Corn grows best when planted in several small rows instead of one long row.  You want a block of corn plants instead of a row.  Corn is pollinated by the wind, so a block makes it easier for the pollen to hit the other corn plants.  Try to have at least a four row block and at least four plants in each row after thinning.  More is fine, but this is pretty much the minimum to get good results.

Corn should be planted in an area that gets lots of sun.  Work the soil down to at least six inches to lossen it.  Working the top eight to ten inches is desirable.  Work in three inches of compost by mixing it into the dirt you have lossened.  For every 100 square feet, work in 2-3 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer.  Mix it with the top 3-4 inches of soil.  Now you are ready to plant the corn.

Corn can be yellow, white, mixed, or colored.  Sweet corn is usually white or yellow, or mixed.  Your Extension Agent can tell you what varieties of corn grow best in your area.  Here in North Central Texas, we plant Silver Queen, Calumet, Merit, Bonanza, or Capitan.  Silver Queen is white and the others are yellow.  There are also heirloom corn varieties available from places such as the Seed Saver’s Exchange.

Corn is hurt by frost, so it should be planted after the last frost date in your area.  Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep and 3-4 inches apart in the row.  Space the rows about 2.5-3 feet apart.  You should have a block of rows when done.

When the corn seedlings come up, thin them to one per foot.  This gives them plenty of room to have plump, juicy ears of corn.  Corn is a water hog, so water it enough to keep it from wilting or the ears will not fill out.

When the plants are about two feet tall, you need to fertilize again.  You want to scatter about one cup of fertilizer for each ten foot of row.  The fertilizer needs to be put between the rows and mixed into the soil a little.  Then you need to water it in.

The major pest of corn is the corn earworm.  This eats into the ear and eats the corn.  Because pesticide laws very by location, you will have to consult your Extension Agent for the recommended treatment of this pest where you live.

Is it ready yet?  If the tassels, or silk, on the ears has turned brown, the ears are firm, and the kernels on the tips of the ears are plump and milky, the answer is yes.  Pick the corn in the early morning or late evening when it is cool so it doesn’t spoil as fast.  Corn needs to be refrigerated in the husk as soon as possible.  Cook and use as quickly as possible for the best flavor.

Corn goes from not ripe to ripe to overripe very quickly.  It is ripe about three weeks after the tassel grows on top of the corn plant.  Corn that is getting close should be checked each day, because it gets pasty and doughy when over ripe.  This corn can be used to make creamed corn and eaten.

If you pick your corn and find the ears are poorly filled out, they were poorly pollinated.  Your block of corn plants was not large enough to make sure everything got pollinated.  Try planting a larger block next time.

It is possible to plant several types of corn right next to each other.  If the corn blooms at different times, they will not cross pollinate each other.  If, however, you plant two types together that bloom at the same time, they will mix pollen and you will get an unpredictable hybrid.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

need a builder October 21, 2010 at 4:17 am

When growing sweet corn, it is important to have plenty of space in your vegetable garden. The most important parts about growing corn are, correct planting, adequate soil moisture and nutrients, and harvesting at the right time.


nik from heirloom vegetable seeds April 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm

I grow a lot of my own produce however I have yet to start growing corn. Thanks for all the tips. I’m sure it’ll be a bit different from anything else I’ve grown thus far so I appreciate all the information.


Stephanie Suesan Smith April 19, 2011 at 6:11 am

Corn is a b it challenging for a home garden because of the way it pollinates. The block planting method does seem to help. Let me know if you have other questions.


Tammy Miller January 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Trying to find a source for Calumet corn seed. Grandparents grew it in the 40’s thru 80’s but it’s disappeared from catalogs.


Stephanie Suesan Smith January 19, 2013 at 11:22 am

Try Baker Creek Heirlooom Seeds. They carry rare seeds and might have what you want.


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