Growing Corn

Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Sweet Corn

Corn
Pixabay

Sweet corn is an annual crop with yellow, white, or 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, but be mindful: if you miss the optimal harvest time, the corn’s flavor will go downhill fast, as sugars convert to starch.

Planting

When to Plant Corn

  • Plant seeds outdoors approximately two weeks after the last spring frost date. Consult our Planting Calendar (above) to see suggested planting dates for your region.
  • It’s important to get corn planted as soon as possible, since it requires a fairly long growing period with warm weather. If you live in an area with a shorter growing season, choose an early variety that will mature well before the first fall frost.
  • 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.
  • A couple weeks after planting your first round of corn, plant another crop to extend the harvest.

Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site

  • Corn plants are picky about their soil. Work in aged manure or compost the fall before planting and let it overwinter in the soil.
  • The soil should be well-draining, but must be able to hold some moisture. Corn tends to use a lot of water.
  • For sufficient pollination, plan your plot right. Instead of planting two long rows of corn, plant “blocks” of corn at least four rows deep. This ensures that the corn—which is pollinated by wind—has a greater chance of producing viable ears.

How to Plant Corn

  • Starting corn seeds indoors is not recommended. It’s best to start them directly in the garden so that their roots aren’t disturbed due to transplanting.
  • Plant seeds 1.5 to 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart.
  • Rows should be spaced 30 to 36 inches apart.
  • 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

How to Grow 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.
  • 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

How to Harvest 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 begin to lose their sweetness soon after harvesting, so use them as soon as possible.
  • Prepare for eating or preserving immediately after picking.

How to Store Corn

Spacing for Corn

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.

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Growing Corn

Botanical Name Zea mays
Plant Type Vegetable
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Loamy
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White, Yellow
Hardiness Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Special Features