How to grow corn: step by step

Cornfields are an iconic sight of American farmland. Want to grow corn? Don’t feel like only professional growers can harvest a crop of this classic crop. While corn will take up a significant portion of your yard, its popularity and flavor more than deserves its place.

How to grow corn

Sweet and juicy corn needs a sheltered, sunny location to reach its full potential. It also needs rich soil (or regular feeding with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer), and it doesn’t do well in dry or heavy soil. But under the right conditions, corn is a valuable addition alongside other vegetables in your vegetable garden, such as onions and broccoli. We asked the experts for their advice on how to grow corn.

Choose your corn variety

The softness of the cob and the hardiness of the plant are important when deciding which type of corn to grow in your own backyard.

The sugar in traditional corn varieties begins to turn into starch as soon as it is picked, which means you have to eat it fresh to get that sweet flavor. If it’s sweetness you like, then choose a super sweet variety – listed as “sh2” in seed catalogs. If classic corn is your choice, look for the “su” marking next to the seeds. These also have the advantage of being more vigorous than the newer cultivars.

The length and relative temperature of the growing season in your area should also be considered. Corn grows best in long, hot summers – you can purchase early, mid-season, and late cultivars to maximize your growing season.

“If you live in the northern or colder parts of the country, choose extra-early ripening varieties,” advises Ed Bollom, head gardener at Gordon Castle in Scotland, which offers online fruit and vegetable growing courses. . “But you can learn how to grow big, delicious cobs in almost any part of the country.”

Sow corn indoors

Greenhouse with vegetable plants

(Image credit: Future/Mark Bolton)

Corn is a tender and frost-sensitive crop, so wait until all risk of cold weather has passed or start sowing indoors in mid-April through May.

“Be patient and don’t sow your seeds too early,” recommends Ed Bollom. “At Gordon Castle we start our sweetcorn in a greenhouse in May, but a warm, sunny windowsill will do just as well.

Kate Turner, horticulturist and “garden guru” at Miracle-Gro and Love the Garden, advises planting corn seeds, or kernels, individually. “Sow the seeds indoors from April to May ideally in modules – also called seed trays – in good quality compost. I would recommend sowing each seed separately as they hate root disturbances,” she says. ‘Place on a warm, bright windowsill or propagator to germinate.’

If you don’t have modules, you can plant the seeds in pots instead.

“Pop two seeds into a 3.5 inch multipurpose compost pot, sowing them about 0.5 inches deep,” says Ed. “They normally germinate after about 10 days, after which carefully remove the weakest seed two seedlings if they have both germinated.

“Let them grow for a few weeks until they are about 8 inches tall and their roots are starting to come out of the bottom of the pots.

Once it’s warm enough to plant outdoors, start hardening off the plants before transferring them to your outdoor vegetable garden. “That means gradually acclimating them outdoors, so you take them out in the daytime (but not in the hot sun) and then bring them back in at night. Do this for about a week,” says Kate.

Sow corn outdoors

sweet corn seedlings

(Image credit: Alamy)

Corn seeds can be sown directly into the ground from April to June. Or transplant your seedlings into the ground once they have hardened off. Make sure the soil is fertile, free of weeds and stones, and in a warm, bright spot.

“Choose a sunny location, sheltered from strong winds,” says Lucie Bradley of garden products company Two Wests. ‘Most soils are perfect for sweet corn; just make sure it drains well and retains plenty of important moisture.

‘Before you sow your seeds, introduce plenty of nutrients and organic matter, ideally from well-made compost, followed by a healthy dose of plant food.

Corn is wind pollinated, so planting your crop in squares rather than rows will increase the chances of your cob developing.

“Corn should be planted in a grid pattern so that pollen from the male ‘tassels’ at the top of the plants can pollinate the lower ‘silks’ on neighboring plants,” says Ed Bollom. “You will need at least three or four rows with 14 to 15 inches between plants and rows. They have shallow roots and can be top heavy, so be sure to firm the soil well when planting.

Caring for corn

sweet corn harvest

(Image credit: Alamy)

The secret to growing good cobs is to keep your plants well watered as they mature. “If the weather is dry, water your soil regularly, especially when establishing your plant,” says Lucie Bradley. ‘Cover all the roots with soil and pile them up to protect the plant from strong winds and weather.

For a little extra TLC, it’s important to feed your corn. “Add a food such as Miracle-Gro Performance Organics Fruit & Veg Granular Food to the soil when planting, then once they start producing cobs you can give them a weekly liquid food with something like tomorite organic,” suggests Kate Turner. Slugs and snails can feast on the new seedlings, while mice love to eat the grains – so keep an eye on your harvest.

Lucie also has another trick for growing corn that guarantees you a good harvest. “Give male plants a good tap to help with pollination,” she says. ‘You can do this when the pom poms open.

corn harvest

sweet corn harvest

(Image credit: Alamy)

Your corn should be ready to harvest about eight weeks after planting, when the tassels at the end of the cob have begun to dry out and turn brown. Remove the leaves and do the nail test…

“You can tell if the cobs are ripe by pressing your fingernail into one of the corns,” says Ed Bollom. “If the flowing liquid is cloudy, they are ready to eat.” If the liquid is translucent, the corn is not yet ready to eat.

“Always twist the cob off the stalk,” says Kate Turner. “And don’t harvest until you need them because the sugars turn into starch very quickly, so you’ll lose their sweetness. If you need to store them, blanch the whole cob in boiling water for 4 minutes, drain well, then freeze in plastic.

Is corn easy to grow?

Corn needs space to thrive and is not suitable for growing in containers, but it is simple to grow. The plants need a sunny, sheltered position, as their height makes them vulnerable to winds. They are also a tender crop and should not be planted when there is a risk of frost.

How long does it take to grow corn?

Corn is a fast growing and productive crop. Plant the seeds from April to June and you can expect to harvest the cobs eight weeks later, from July to October.

About Marco C. Nichols

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