Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How To Grow Corn

Corn Is Super Easy To Grow. 
It Will Even Grow In Sand or Containers.

Corn will and has grown in desert arid conditions, great American plains to northern wetlands. A bountiful harvest is all about choosing the right variety for your general area and planting when the ground temperature rises above 50F and air temperature is 60F once the plant rises out of the soil.

I'm a big fan of heirloom corn and I always do my best to find a good hardy variety of sweet corn as like Golden Bantam,  Hookers Sweet Indian heirloom sweet corn, Hopi, Honey Pearl, Luther Hill sweet corn, etc.

From experience, I've been  successful by planting corn in the northern most part of your garden. Be sure that your corn doesn't block the sun for other plants near by.

Plant after a complete danger of frost has past. You'll regret it otherwise. Always plant in well drained soil. Most corn will grow in any soil conditions but, salty soil. 

Be sure to water the ground well before planting. This gives corn a good head start.

Corn may need additional water to make quality ears during a dry summer. Very hot weather can also have a negative effect on pollination of corn. For a continuous crop, stagger plantings a few weeks apart or choose corn varieties with different maturities. For instance, choose one variety of corn that may mature in 60 days or another that my mature in 80 days or so.

It's always best to find which variety suits your hardiness zone and soil but, in general I've not had a sweet corn that wouldn't grow in the heat of southern California desert. Native American Indians have been cultivating corn in the desert for centuries before Europeans arrived.


Yep, corn is monoecious (mon-ee-shuss). That means that there are both male and female flowers on each corn plant. American Native Americans called this two spirits. 

In some monoecious plants, male and female parts are in the same flower. In corn, male and female flowers are in different locations - the male flowers form a tassel which is at the top of the plant. At first it will stand straight and eventually it will lay over... uhem.

The female flower is located at the junction of leaves and stem. It consists of a collection silks enclosed in the husks of what will eventually become the ears. These silks or strands are the pollen-receiving tubes. Yep. Under a microscope the silks of a corn plant are actually tubes that wind-blown pollen from the male flowers (tassel) falls on the silks below and enter through the pours of the silks and follow the tube to it's final destination during pollination. Each silk leads to a kernel, and pollen must land on all silks for the ear to fill out completely with kernels. Missing kernels "skips" (ears only partly filled out with kernels) are often the result of poor pollination.

You can easily help pollination along on corn by either shaking stalks or gently running your hands up the tassels and sprinkle the pollen on the corn silks.

Basic Planting Guide For Corn

Plant corn about May 10 or when soils reach a temperature of at least 50F. Corn seed will not germinate in colder soils, decaying instead. The extra sweet varieties of corn require even warmer soil. The hotter the better. 

You'll have a better success rate at growing really sweet corn if the ground temperature is  at least 60F. You can warm soil by covering with black plastic and punching holes through it to plant seed. The rate at which corn grows is heavily influenced by warm soil and air temperatures. The month of May is usually a good month to begin corn all around America. We have longer growing seasons here in southern California and so, I'm lucky to begin corn March.

Because corn is wind-pollinated, plant it in blocks of rows, rather than in a long, single row, which would result in poor pollen distribution on the silks and many kernel "skips".

If your ground is mostly sandy, you'll have better success by simply pushing the seeds into the ground rather than making drills or mounds. 

Plant two or three seeds 12-15 inches apart, in rows 30-36 inches apart. Shorter, earlier varieties can be spaced somewhat closer.

Plant seeds 1 - 1 1/2 inches deep, except for extra sweet varieties, which should only be planted three-fourths an inch deep.

Some folk say that your corn should be knee high before July 4th to determine if your corn is growing properly.

If both or all three seeds in a spot germinate, thin out the poorer seedlings, saving the best plant from each spot. Be sure to isolate extra sweet varieties from all other types of sweet corn because, cross pollination with other types can result in tough, starchy kernels.

Water the block-rows well before and after planting. Good soil moisture is especially critical for the germination of  the extra sweet corn variety. Extra sweet corn must absorb more water than other types of sweet corn for germination to occur. As plants grow and weather becomes warmer, watering frequency must increase. Your ground doesn't have to be saturated all the time.

Water the seeds a bit every day to moisten the soil but, give your corn a really good soaking with a sprinkler or grab yourself a cold beer and plan to stand in place for a good 20 minutes. 

Your corn will be more successful if it gets more deep waterings less frequently than frequently shallow waterings. You'll actually use less water as well and benefit the plants.

Most corn varieties will produce shoots or "suckers" at the base of the plants. Researchers and backyard gardeners have determined that sucker removal does not increase yield or benefit the plants so, save yourself a backache and leave the suckers alone.

I used to pull the suckers because, the new garden informants were saying that it will send more energy to the plants. I've always found that it opens your plants up to disease, pests and the smell of a freshly cut corn stalk attracts animals.

In a nut shell, plant most corn in full sun about a thumb knuckle and a half deep when the ground temperature is warmer than 50. Plant in blocks of rows about 36 inches apart. Plant 2-3 seeds about 12-15 inches apart (some varieties can be planted closer),  pull the weaker plants which can be transplanted and water deeply.

I've often started corn early in coffee cans by tossing in a few kernels. When the corn is about 6 inches tall, I'll then transplant them.



Old time favourite is the sisters: corn, squash and beans. Other good companion plants are beets, bush beans, cabbage, cucumber, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkin, herbs: basil, parsley, peas, early potatoes, watermelon, etc.


My trusted favourite fertilizer is still ordinary cow manure. I'm also a huge fan of manure tea (seeped cow manure / compost tea).

You can also try bloodmeal, partially rotted manure or a liquid fertilizer. Corn needs plenty of moisture. Be sure to hill soil around the base of the plant when they are about 6” high. This will help the roots to anchor and cool.

It's a good idea to use a mulch to keep down weeds and conserve moisture particularly if you're not going to companion plant by planting either squash or beans in and around your corn.


Corn is ready when the ears are completely filled and a pierced kernel shows a milky white liquid. A very good sign of corn cob readiness is when the silks turn brown and crisp.


Victory Seed, Burpee, Stoke Seed Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Eden Brothers, Gurney's, Sustainable Seed Company, Seed Exchange, Seeds of Change etc.

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Thank you very much for your comments and questions.I will be sure to reply as soon as I can. With Regards ~Emma