How to Grow Corn: A Comprehensive Guide to Growing, Harvesting & Companion Planting
Corn is a popular crop for home gardeners due to its versatility and sweetness when eaten fresh. Learning how to grow corn, how to plant corn, and how to grow corn from seed can be a rewarding experience, yielding delicious results. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the basics of growing corn, including the best companion plants for corn to help your crop thrive. We will also explore how long corn takes to grow, so you can plan your garden accordingly.
I. Corn Varieties
Before you start planting corn, it’s essential to understand the different corn varieties available. There are three main types of corn: sweet corn, field corn, and ornamental corn. Each type has several varieties that differ in taste, color, and growth characteristics. The focus of this guide will be on sweet corn, as it is the most popular choice for home gardeners.
Sweet corn varieties can be further classified into three main categories: standard, sugar-enhanced, and supersweet. Each category has a different level of sugar content and texture, which affects the taste and shelf life of the harvested corn.
- Standard sweet corn Standard sweet corn has a classic corn flavor and a moderate amount of sugar. It is best consumed shortly after harvesting, as the sugar quickly converts to starch.
- Sugar-enhanced sweet corn Sugar-enhanced sweet corn contains more sugar than standard sweet corn, which results in a sweeter taste and a longer shelf life.
- Supersweet corn Supersweet corn varieties have the highest sugar content, providing a very sweet taste and an extended shelf life.
When selecting a corn variety, consider factors such as taste preferences, growing conditions, and desired harvest time. Be mindful that some corn varieties do not cross-pollinate well, which can lead to poor kernel development. If you plan to grow multiple corn varieties, ensure they are compatible or plant them far enough apart to prevent cross-pollination issues.
II. How to Plant Corn
Planting corn requires careful planning and attention to detail. Follow these steps to learn how to plant corn and achieve a bountiful harvest.
- Choose a planting site Select a sunny location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Corn thrives in well-draining soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. Conduct a soil test to determine the pH and nutrient levels of your chosen site, and make any necessary amendments before planting.
- Prepare the soil Before planting, prepare the soil by tilling or digging it to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Remove any rocks or debris, and incorporate compost or aged manure to improve soil fertility.
- Planting corn seeds Corn is best planted directly in the garden, as it does not transplant well. Plant corn seeds outdoors after the last frost date when the soil has warmed to at least 60°F. Plant seeds 1 to 1.5 inches deep and 9 to 12 inches apart within rows. Rows should be spaced 30 to 36 inches apart.
- Planting in blocks Corn is wind-pollinated, so it is essential to plant corn in blocks of at least four rows to ensure proper pollination and well-filled ears. Planting in blocks helps distribute pollen more effectively, resulting in better pollination and a more bountiful harvest.
III. How to Grow Corn from Seed
Growing corn from seed is relatively straightforward once you have prepared the soil and selected the right variety. Follow these tips for success when learning how to grow corn from seed.
- Germination Corn seeds typically germinate within 7 to 10 days, depending on soil temperature and moisture levels conditions. To speed up germination, you can soak the seeds in water for 12 to 24 hours before planting. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged during the germination period.
- Watering Corn requires consistent moisture to grow well, especially during germination and pollination. Water the plants deeply at least once a week, providing about 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Be careful not to overwater, as this can cause root rot and other issues.
- Fertilizing Corn is a heavy feeder, requiring a high amount of nutrients for optimal growth. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at planting time, following the package instructions for the recommended rate. Side-dress the corn with additional nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are about knee-high, and again when the tassels appear.
- Weed control Weed control is crucial when growing corn, as weeds compete with the corn plants for nutrients, water, and sunlight. Hand-pull weeds or use a hoe to remove them from around the base of the corn plants. Avoid using chemical herbicides, as they can damage the corn plants.
- Pest control Monitor your corn plants regularly for signs of pests, such as corn earworms, cutworms, and aphids. Employ appropriate control methods, such as hand-picking, using insecticidal soap, or introducing beneficial insects, to manage these pests and protect your corn plants.
IV. How Long Does Corn Take to Grow?
The time it takes for corn to grow from seed to harvest depends on the specific variety you have chosen. Most sweet corn varieties have a maturation period of 60 to 100 days from planting. Check the seed packet or plant label for the exact number of days to maturity for your chosen variety.
- Pollination When the corn plants reach maturity, the tassels at the top of the plant will release pollen, which is carried by the wind to the silks on the developing ears. Proper pollination is crucial for well-filled ears of corn. To ensure good pollination, plant corn in blocks of at least four rows, and avoid planting in single rows.
- Harvesting Harvest corn when the ears are fully developed and the kernels are plump and tender. The silks will turn brown and dry when the ears are ready for harvest. To test for ripeness, puncture a kernel with your thumbnail. If a milky liquid is released, the corn is ready to harvest.
V. How to Take Care of Corn: A Guide to Proper Corn Maintenance and Care
Proper corn care is crucial to achieving a healthy and bountiful harvest. This guide will cover essential corn care tips, including watering, fertilizing, weed control, and pest management, to ensure a successful corn-growing experience.
- Consistency Corn requires consistent watering, particularly during the crucial stages of tasseling, silking, and ear development. Provide your corn plants with 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, either through rainfall or supplemental irrigation.
- Deep Watering Water corn deeply to encourage the development of a strong root system. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation system to deliver water directly to the root zone, reducing water waste and preventing disease caused by wet foliage.
- Mulching Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves, around the base of your corn plants to help retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature. This will also suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil as the mulch decomposes.
- Soil Test Before planting, conduct a soil test to determine the nutrient needs of your corn plants. This will guide you in selecting the appropriate fertilizer for your garden.
- Balanced Fertilizer Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at planting time, following the package instructions. Choose a fertilizer with a balanced ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to promote healthy plant growth and development.
- Side Dressing Side-dress your corn with additional nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are about knee-high and again when the tassels appear. This will provide the necessary nutrients for optimal growth and ear production.
III. Weed Control
- Cultivating Cultivate the soil around your corn plants regularly to control weeds. Use a hoe or garden fork to carefully remove weeds without damaging the corn’s shallow root system.
- Hand-pulling Hand-pull weeds close to the growing corn plants to avoid damaging their roots. Be sure to remove the entire weed, including the root, to prevent regrowth.
- Proper Spacing Space your corn plants according to the recommended guidelines to reduce competition for nutrients and sunlight, making it more difficult for weeds to become established.
IV. Pest and Disease Management
- Inspect Regularly Regularly inspect your corn plants for signs of pests and diseases. Early detection and intervention can help prevent extensive damage to your crop.
- Integrated Pest Management Employ integrated pest management (IPM) strategies, such as introducing beneficial insects, using insecticidal soap, or hand-picking pests, to control infestations without resorting to harsh chemical treatments.
- Crop Rotation Rotate your corn crop with other plant families, such as legumes or brassicas, to disrupt the life cycle of pests and diseases specific to corn. This will help reduce the likelihood of recurring problems in your garden.
- Garden Hygiene Maintain good garden hygiene by removing plant debris, fallen leaves, and other potential hiding places for pests and diseases. This will help keep your corn plants healthy and reduce the risk of infections.
By following these corn care tips, you can help ensure the health and productivity of your corn plants, leading to a successful and bountiful harvest.
VI. Corn Companion Planting
Companion planting with corn is an effective way to reduce the risks associated with growing this crop, while also promoting healthy growth and maximizing yields. In this article, we will discuss some of the best companion plants for corn and how to incorporate them into your garden.
Companion Plants for Corn
- Beans – Beans are an excellent companion plant for corn. They are able to fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, which can be used by the corn plants to grow. In addition, their root systems help to loosen and aerate the soil, which promotes healthy growth. Beans also provide a natural trellis for the corn to climb on.
- Squash – Squash plants are a great companion for corn because they can help to deter pests such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles. They also provide a natural ground cover, which can help to retain moisture in the soil and prevent weeds from growing.
- Cucumbers – Cucumbers are another great companion for corn. They have a shallow root system, which allows them to grow without competing with the corn for nutrients. They also help to repel pests such as aphids and beetles.
- Melons – Melons are a good companion plant for corn because they also have a shallow root system and can help to retain moisture in the soil. They also help to deter pests such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles.
Plants to Avoid
There are some plants that may not be compatible with corn and may even cause harm to its growth and productivity. Here are some plants to avoid planting near corn:
- Members of the nightshade family: Plants in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, are known to be poor companions for corn. This is because they can attract pests like corn earworms, which can damage both the corn and the nightshade plants.
- Brassicas: Brassicas, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, are also not recommended for planting near corn. This is because they may compete with the corn for nutrients and water, and their large leaves can block sunlight from reaching the corn.
- Other large plants: Any large plant that casts shade on the corn or competes for nutrients and water can be problematic. This includes plants like sunflowers and tall grasses.
- Certain herbs: Some herbs can release chemicals that may inhibit the growth of corn. These include dill and chamomile, so it’s best to avoid planting these near your corn.
By utilizing the proper companion plants for corn, you can benefit your entire garden.
VII. How to Plant Corn with the Three Sisters: An Ancient Gardening Technique for Corn, Beans & Squash
The Three Sisters is a time-honored Native American planting method that combines corn, beans, and squash in a mutually beneficial arrangement. This technique not only maximizes space and productivity but also promotes soil health and sustainability. Here’s how to plant the Three Sisters in your garden.
I. The Benefits of the Three Sisters Planting Method
- Nutrient Sharing Beans, as legumes, fix nitrogen in the soil, providing this essential nutrient for the corn, which is a heavy nitrogen feeder. The squash, with its large, sprawling leaves, helps retain soil moisture and suppress weeds, reducing competition for nutrients.
- Natural Supports Corn provides a natural trellis for beans to climb, eliminating the need for additional supports. This allows the beans to grow upward, maximizing sunlight exposure and making efficient use of space.
- Pest Deterrence The prickly vines and leaves of squash discourage pests like raccoons and deer from foraging on the corn and beans. Additionally, beans attract beneficial insects that help control pests such as aphids.
II. How to Plant Corn with the Three Sisters Method
A. Site Selection Choose a location with full sun, as all three crops require at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Ensure the soil is well-draining, fertile, and has a pH between 6.0 and 6.8.
B. Planting Layout
- Mound Preparation Create mounds of soil approximately 18 inches in diameter and 12 inches high, with 4 feet of spacing between each mound. This spacing allows the squash vines to sprawl between the mounds and provides ample room for the beans to climb the corn stalks.
- Corn Planting Plant 4 to 6 corn seeds in the center of each mound, about 1 inch deep. Water the seeds thoroughly and keep the soil consistently moist until germination. Thin the corn seedlings to the strongest 2 or 3 plants per mound once they reach about 4 inches tall.
- Bean Planting When the corn plants reach a height of approximately 6 inches, plant 4 to 6 bean seeds around the base of each cornstalk, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Plant the beans approximately 1 inch deep and water them well.
- Squash Planting After the beans have sprouted and begun to climb the cornstalks, plant 2 to 3 squash seeds near the edge of each mound, about 1 inch deep. Once the squash seedlings have a few true leaves, thin them to the strongest plant per mound.
Beans and squash are excellent companion plants for corn. Together will support soil health and sustainability, and help produce a bountiful harvest.
III. Maintenance and Harvesting
- Watering Water the Three Sisters garden deeply and consistently, providing about 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
- Fertilizing Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at planting time, following the package instructions. Side-dress the corn with additional nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are about knee-high and again when the tassels appear.
- Pest Control Monitor the Three Sisters garden for pests and employ appropriate control methods, such as hand-picking, insecticidal soap, or introducing beneficial insects.
- Harvesting Harvest corn, beans, and squash as they mature. Follow the guidelines for each crop to determine the optimal harvest time and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
By planting the Three Sisters method, you can enjoy the benefits of this ancient gardening technique while cultivating a diverse and bountiful harvest in your garden.
Try Our Varieties of Corn
Peaches and Cream Corn: A popular variety of sweet corn known for its unique taste and texture. It is a hybrid variety that was first developed in the 1960s and is still widely grown today. Peaches and Cream corn produces ears that are 8-9 inches long with 14-16 rows of kernels. The kernels are a creamy white color and have a sweet, rich flavor. This variety is popular for its tender texture and its ability to stay sweet and fresh for a longer period of time than other corn varieties. Peaches and Cream corn is best grown in warm climates with plenty of sun and well-drained soil. It is a great choice for home gardeners who want to enjoy delicious, fresh corn all summer long.
Learning how to grow corn, how to plant corn, and how to grow corn from seed can be a rewarding gardening experience, yielding delicious results. By understanding the different corn varieties, proper planting techniques, and best companion plants for corn, you can improve your corn crop’s health and productivity. With patience and attention to detail, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of fresh corn, knowing exactly how long corn takes to grow and how to make the most of your harvest.