Growing Sweet Corn at Home

Growing Sweet Corn at Home

Fresh corn on the cob, plucked right from the garden and placed on the grill is hard to beat flavor-wise. Growing sweet corn at home is easy, and the stalks take up very little space since they grow upwards. Do note that sweet corn and field corn are not quite the same – the former has yellow and/or white kernels combined, while field corn is all deep yellow, often with dimples (dents) on the kernels. And of course, sweet corn is well, just sweeter and softer.

Use these tips for successfully growing sweet corn at home and enjoy fresh grilled corn all summer, although these growing tips can also be applied for field corn too.

Location and Soil

Sweet corn thrives in warm sun (8-10 hours of daily sunlight) and moist, fertile, loam soil that is slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5). They don’t need much as corn is one of the easiest plants to grow in a garden. To get garden soil to the ideal consistency, till the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches, and apply 4 inches of compost on top of the soil, and using a spade or rototiller – work it into the soil to about 4 inches deep. Corn can develop a deep root system up to several feet deep, but tilling the soil too deeply at the planting stage is not really needed unless the soil has a lot of hard and compact soil pans. The compost will provide food for the developing corn and help prevent soil compaction so the tender roots can spread out easily. Ensure that the soil is warm too – above 55° Celsius, since corn is a summer crop.

sweet corn

How to Plant

After amending the soil with compost, create rows that are 1 inch deep and 8 inches apart. Wait 2 weeks past the last spring frost to plant. Sweet corn is a fast-growing plant that thrives in hot weather, planting too early will result in seed loss or crop failure. April through July seems to be the optimal planting season for corn.

Place the sweet corn seeds into rows 8 inches apart and cover with 1 inch of soil. It is better to grow 4 or more short rows side-by-side rather than one long row – this will aid in ear development and pollination. Water thoroughly.

sweet corn rows in corn field
Corn is best planted as short, but systematic rows.

If you want a harvest to come in all at once so you can preserve the fresh ears of corn, plant seed corn all at once. If you want to harvest it all summer, plant a few seeds every 2 weeks for a continual harvest. Just remember not to plant different corn varieties near each other, because you will get starchy corn if you cross sweet corn with other varieties.

Food and Water

Sweet corn is a heavy drinker and feeder. The initial compost in the soil will get it started, but the plants will need a steady supply of nutrients and moisture throughout the growing season. When stalks reach 6 inches tall, apply a 2 inch layer of compost around the base. This will help feed the plant and help soil retain moisture. The shallow roots dry out quickly, so water every 3-4 days during dry spells. Sweet corn needs a minimum of 1 inch of water each week to develop normally. You can use compost tea or water-soluble plant food mixed at one-half the recommended rate during the important periods of pollination and the final ear filling stage, to keep the sweet corn hydrated and well fed.

Sweet Corn Pests

Sweet corn (most corn in general) is seldom seriously damaged by pests, but it’s still good to know what the common pests of sweet corn are. There are certain pests that just love sweet corn, such as aphids, flea beetles, and corn earworms. Other pests of sweet corn include seed-corn maggots, cutworms, Southern corn rootworm, Japanese beetles, European corn borers, wireworms, and fall armyworms. To control them in an environmentally friendly organic manner, try the methods described here.

corn worm pest
Southern corn rootworm larvae

To minimize pests, keep the rows free of weeds, and plant some companion plants for the corn. Companion plants include:

Harvest Time

Depending on the cultivar, sweet corn is usually ready to harvest in 60-100 days, following the appearance of the first silky strands. Ears are ready for harvesting when silks begin to dry up and turn brown. Each corn seed will produce a stalk that bears 2 ears of corn. Gently peel back some of the shuck while the corn is still attached to the stalk and stick thumb nail in a corn kernel to test for ripeness. If thumb nail goes in easily, with a slight pop and squirt of corn juice, the ear is ready to be harvested.

harvested sweet corn
Freshly harvested sweet corn

Grasp the stalk and ear, then quickly snap ear off by bending it downward. Corn stalks are finished producing and can be removed from the soil or left in place to dry for use in fall decor. Once harvested, cook and eat them right away or store your sweet corn in the refrigerator as soon as possible to maintain the sweet taste. High temperatures will convert the sugar to starch, making the taste bland.

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