Growing Corn

Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Sweet Corn

Ears of Corn

Sweet corn is an annual with yellow, white, and bi-colored ears. A long, frost-free growing season is necessary. Here’s how to plant, grow, and harvest corn in your garden.

Sweet corn is wind-pollinated, so it should be planted in blocks, rather than in single rows. Early, mid, and late-season varieties extend the harvest. If you miss the optimal harvest time, the corn’s flavor will go downhill fast, as sugars convert to starch.

Planting

Planting Corn

  • Corn plants are picky about their soil. Work in aged manure or compost the fall before planting and let it overwinter in the soil.
  • Starting corn seeds indoors is not recommended.
  • Plant seeds outdoors two weeks after the last spring frost date.
  • Make sure the soil temperature is above 60°F (16°C) for successful germination. (Up to 65°F/18°C for super sweet varieties.) In colder zones, the ground can be warmed by a black plastic cover if necessary. Plant seeds through holes in the plastic.
  • Plant seeds 1.5 to 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Rows 30 to 36 inches apart.
  • For sufficient pollination, plan your plot right. Don’t plant two long rows, rather, plant corn blocks of at least four rows.
  • You may choose to fertilize at planting time; corn is meant to grow rapidly. If you are confident that the soil is adequate, this can be skipped.
  • Water well at planting time.

Care

Caring for Corn

  • When your plants are 3 to 4 inches tall, thin them so they are 8 to 12 inches apart.
  • Be careful not to damage the roots when weeding.
  • Soil must be well drained and able to keep consistent moisture.
  • In dry conditions, be sure to keep corn well watered due to its shallow roots. Water at a rate of 5 gallons per sq yard. Mulch helps reduce evaporation.

Pests/Diseases

Corn plants are susceptible to several common garden pests:

Harvest/Storage

Harvesting Corn

  • Harvest when tassels begin to turn brown and cobs start to swell. Kernels should be full and milky.
  • Pull ears downward and twist to take off stalk.
  • Sweet corn varieties lose their sweetness soon after harvesting.
  • Prepare for eating or preserving immediately after picking.
  • Sweet corn freezes well, especially if removed from ears before freezing. Learn how to properly freeze corn.
  • Corn kernels can also be harvested for other purposes, like corn-filled therapy packs.

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

  • Baby corn is produced from regular corn plants that are harvested early, while the ears are immature. Regular sweet corn, sugar-enhanced sweet corn, and supersweet corn varieties can be used, along with a few varieties that are specific for baby corn.
  • If your corn shucks harder than usual, prepare for a cold winter.
  • Corn is one of the Three Sisters; its growing style pairs perfectly with beans and squash. Learn more about companion planting.
  • Corn is great for eating but also has so many other uses including medicinal. Learn more about corn for natural health.
  • Learn more fun, witty facts about corn.

Recipes

Cooking Notes

If too much hot pepper or spice has been added to a soup or stew, adding a can of sweet corn can help.

Popcorn is also a favorite snack if you have leftover kernels. Learn how to make homemade popcorn here.

Growing Corn

Botanical Name

Zea mays

Plant Type Vegetable
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Loamy
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time
Flower Color
Hardiness Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Special Features