Growing Garden Fresh Sweet Corn

Farmer Examining Crop of Corn.
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Overview and Description of Corn Plants

Corn is one of the most popular vegetable to grow and eat, and all the more delicious when freshly harvested. To get the flavor of fresh corn, you will have to grow your own. [If you are wondering why corn is being called a vegetable here ,and not a grain, it's because in its fresh form corn is considered a vegetable. A grain is generally defined as a monocot grown for its mature seed.

So corn used to make flour would be a grain. What we are discussing in this article is growing fresh eating corn.]

Corn plants grow straight, tall stalks that produce husked ears of tender kernels tufted with silks. Most corn varieties look alike on the outside, but under the husks, sweet corn can be white, yellow, bicolor, and even red. Many modern sweet corn varieties have been bred to mature early in the season, but later maturing types tend to be sweeter.

Although it is easy enough to grow corn in any warm, sunny garden, it is often difficult to successfully bring to harvest because of the competition from crows, raccoons, squirrels and assorted other pests who find corn as delicious as do humans.  Here are tips for how to grow corn in your garden.

Botanical Name

Zea mays

Common Name(s)

Sweet Corn

Cold Hardiness Zones

Corn is grown as an annual plant, so USDA Hardiness Zones do not apply.

Mature Size of Corn Plants

The size of your corn plants will vary with the type of corn you are growing and the growing conditions, but most corn plants average 6 - 8 ft.

tall. There are shorter varieties, for gardens with limited space.

Exposure for Corn Plants

To grow well and have the ears fill out, your corn will need a spot that gets full sun.

Days to Harvest

Again, the days to maturity depends on the variety you are growing. It can be anywhere from 65 - 90 days. You can extend your corn harvest by planting 2 or 3 different varieties that mature at different times.

Harvesting Corn

Traditional wisdom says harvest your corn the day before the raccoons do. Seriously, look for fat, dark green ears with brown tassels. Squeeze to test for firmness and a rounded, not pointed tip. A final test would be to pierce a kernel with a fingernail. If it spurts milky liquid, it's ready.

Corn Growing Tips

Planting Corn: Corn is generally direct seeded, after all danger of frost is past. Because corn is pollinated by the wind, it does best when planted in blocks rather than rows. Pollen from the male tassels needs to make contact with the female silks and close planting means more contact.

Note to Seed Savers: Wind pollination also results in easy cross-pollination, so keep different types of corn separated by at least 25 feet or plant varieties that mature at different times.

Soil: The soil should be loose, with a neutral pH (6.0 - 7.0). Heavy soils inhibit corn's long tap roots. The shallow roots you will see on the soil surface are predominantly there to anchor the tall plants.

Sweet corn is a long season crop. To extend the harvest, plant varieties that mature at different rates. You can expect one to two ears of corn per plant.

Fertilizer & Feeding: Corn is a heavy feeder, requiring rich soil.

Nitrogen is especially important, since corn is basically a grass. The Native American practice of burying a fish head with the corn seeds was a practical means of supplementing nitrogen. An inch or two of compost or rotted manure will also work, as will feeding with fish emulsion. Apply nitrogen fertilizer once the plants are about 8 inches tall and again when they start producing tassels.

Watering: Water regularly, especially if you notice the leaves curling and when the cobs begin to swell. It's better to water deeply once a week, rather than a little water daily. Keep the area free of weeds that will compete for food and water.

Corn Pests & Problems

Animals will be the biggest pest problem. The native American method of planting squash under corn plants helps deter some animals, because they don't like stepping on the prickly squash leaves.

But it also makes it difficult to harvest.

Corn borers can be kept in check with Bt and by destroying the stalks at the end of the season.

Flea beetles will spread bacterial wilt. Combat that by planting resistant varieties.

Be on the look out for a grayish black fungus called smut. Although some cultures find it a delicious treat, it can kill your corn harvest. Remove and destroy while young, before the mass bursts and sends the spores everywhere.

Suggested Corn Varieties

  • 'Early Sunglow': Early and sweet. Good for shorter seasons and small gardens.


  • 'Silver Queen' - Another early producer with pale white kernels and very disease resistant. The new 'Silver Princess" is even earlier.


  • 'Golden Bantam' - An open pollinated heirloom variety, often called the original sweet corn.


  • 'Tuxedo: - One of the newer 'supersweet' varieties with extra long ears.