Determining when to harvest corn is very important to get the most out of this sunny crop. With a narrow window of opportunity when the beans get sweet and juicy and before they get hard and starchy, the timing of your harvest is everything.
There is no denying that corn grown on site tastes much better than any store-bought cob. Full of sweet, milky flavors and juices, it is absolutely delicious roasted, barbecued or simply steamed. Bursting with minerals, fiber and protein, it’s a healthy and quick-to-grow choice, with many strains ready to harvest in just 70 days.
A vital ingredient that corn needs to grow is heat. Temperatures of 18-21°C (65-70°F) are ideal, but there are a few recent cultivars that will work in slightly cooler climates. Ornamental and flavorful, these tall decorative plants, with their upright stems and loose acorns, are perfect planted in a border or as an element in a giant container.
When to Harvest Corn
If you’re growing corn, it’s worth learning to recognize when your local crop is ripe. When you plant corn will vary depending on your location, but when it comes to harvesting, leave it too late and all you’ll have is a tough, starchy crop suitable for compost.
“The telltale sign that your sweet corn is ready to harvest is when the tassels emerging from the tips of the cobs turn dark brown,” Hilliers experts say. (opens in a new tab). “It shows that they collected pollen and fertilized, which is necessary to produce and mature the individual corns.
‘Test by peeling off the sheaf and gently squeezing one of the grains. If the liquid that comes out is milky in color, the sweet corn is ripe and ready. If it’s clear, leave it longer. If there is no liquid at all, unfortunately you can harvest too late.
Ideally, harvest corn early in the morning and gently pull and twist each ear or cob down and away from the main stalk. Take as much as you need each day during the early stages of harvest, but be sure to pick up all the corn before the first frosts arrive.
When to Harvest Popcorn
Popcorn and sweet corn come from different plants and have varying harvest times. While sweet corn should be picked when the kernels are full of sweet, milky sap, popcorn kernels should be firm and nicely colored.
“When the tassels on the cobs pods have darkened, it’s time to harvest and dry your cobs,” say Stephen and Serena Shirley of Victoriana Nursery Gardens. (opens in a new tab). “While it is possible to let the cobs dry naturally on the plants before harvesting, this requires a relatively unrestricted rainfall. The second disadvantage of drying on the plant is that if the mice find the ears drying, they decimate them. So cut the cobs with some extra stem and carefully remove the outer husk and acorn debris.
When to Pick Ornamental Corn for Decorative Crafts
Not just for eating, certain varieties of corn can be grown for crafts and to create spectacular fall decorations.
“Ornamental spikes can be used in fall flower arrangements,” says Kris Collins, horticulture manager at Thompson & Morgan. (opens in a new tab). ‘Let the cobs dry out on the plants for as long as possible. Harvest ornamental corn cobs when the silky tassels at the end of the cob have turned brown. Peel the sheath off the cob to reveal the colored kernels, but don’t remove the husk. Use the wrap to hang them indoors to dry until they’re ready to use as fall decorations. ‘
How do you know when corn is ready to be picked?
The easiest way to test the ripeness of corn on the cob or sweet corn is to closely examine the tassels and silky kernels. Once the end tassels have turned brown, carefully peel off the outer paper husk from the cob to reveal the kernels. Press with your fingernail. If a milky sap oozes out, the ear is ripe and ready to be picked.
If it’s still hard, without juice, fold the covering over the cob and continue watering and feeding the plant for a few weeks before checking again.
Can you pick corn too early?
It’s possible to pick the corn too early and it won’t be as sweet as it should be, plus it could be tough. As a guideline, the corn should be ready about three weeks after the silky tassels first appear.
However, you still need to wait until the tassels are brown, then peel off the coating to expose a few grains and press down with a fingernail. If you are too early, the sap will still be clear, so wait. Keep checking daily, though, because it’s easy to hang on too long and miss the opportunity to enjoy ripe corn from the garden.