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How to Grow Sweet Corn, Popcorn, Indian Corn

sweet corn seeds, popcorn, indian, grow, growing

Sweet Corn is among the most popular of vegetables. People look forward all year to fresh corn on the cob in late summer. Very little compares to the fresh taste of corn picked from the garden, moments before it is cooked. Corn loses it's flavor very rapidly. Once it is picked, the sugars immediately begin to turn to starch.

The only trouble with growing sweet corn, is it requires a large amount of space to grow. Most backyard gardeners grow tomatoes, because they can grow as few as one plant, which takes up very little space. Even urban backyard gardeners have enough space for a single tomato plant. Planting corn requires a minimum of three rows (ideally four), of about four feet  in length. The space between rows needs to be three feet. This minimum space allows adequate pollination for the ears. Corn is pollinated by pollen from it's tassels (the tops of the plant). Compare this to tomatoes, which are self pollinating (which is why you can grow a single plant).

Corn will usually produce one to two ears per plant. It is also a favorite for fall decorations where the stalks can be used in a variety of outdoor displays. As a result you get two uses out of your crop. If you are a farmer, there is a third use. Livestock can be fed the stalks, after the fall decorations are through.

Did You Know? The Greek Goddess of Corn is Demeter. She oversees grains and fertility of the earth.

Varieties of Corn Plants:

  • Yellow- The most common and popular of varieties. There are a wide range of types of seed within this category.

  • White - With white kernels, this author and many others consider white corn to be among the best tasting corn you can find. Among this category, Silver Queen corn is the most popular by far.

  • Bi-Color- This variety boasts both yellow and white kernels. Not only does it taste good, it looks good too!

  • Popcorn- Kids and adults will enjoy the thrill of growing their own popcorn, and popping it in the fall. The ears need to thoroughly dry. Rub two dry ears together to remove the kernels from the cob, or take the cob with kernels still attached, and pop it in the microwave! How to Grow and Dry Popcorn

  • Broom Corn- Few people today are familiar with Broom corn. This corn was grown for the thin, strong stalks. They would be dried, then tied at the end of a stick to make a broom.

  • Ornamental Indian Corn- This is grown only for decorative purposes. It is dried and the ears are used to decoration for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other fall events. Common, popular varieties include: Ornamental multi-color Indian Corn and, Blue Hopi.

  • Tall stalks- This corn is grown for it's tall stalk. It is used in competition at fall festivals. A stalk from this variety can grow over twenty feet!

Days to Maturity:

Ranges from 65 to 95 days depending on variety. Among the longest varieties are "Silver Queen", one of the all time favorites, and certainly worth the wait. While some of today's enhanced sugar varieties claim to have higher sugar content and sweetness, Silver Queen remains the home gardener's favorite "Queen of the  Sweet Corns".

How to Grow Corn Plants:

Grow corn in full sun and a rich garden soil.

Plant seeds in rows, about 1/2 to 1 inch deep. Space four to six inches apart in rows three feet apart. Some home gardeners will plant two seeds close together then, thin out one of them if both grow. This assures maximum use of limited garden space, with no gaps due to poor germination. Another method is to space the seed closer together, then thin them. Water well after planting, and again two to four days later if there has been no rain.

Seeds will sprout in about 10-14 days.

To assure proper pollination, plant four rows four feet long.

Tip: Some gardeners try to transplant corn seedlings to fill gaps in the row. In general, corn does not transplant well. You can succeed however, under the right conditions. First, transplant when the seedling is very small. Second, transplant in cooler weather and near evening. Dig extra deep, to extract as much of the plant's roots as possible. Seedlings send out a long, deep tap root. Finally, water well and daily for about a week.

As the plant grows, it can be susceptible to high winds. Pile up garden soil around the base of the plants, to help prevent damage.

Fertilize with a general purpose fertilizer every two to three weeks.

Water regularly in dry weather. Water deeply.

Keep plants well weeded in their early life. Place mulch between the rows to keep weeds down. 

Also See:

Plant Problems

Soil Temperatures - Ideal germination temperature by vegetable

Ideal Soil pH - by vegetable

Insects and Pests:

Corn Ear worms and silkworms are the most common pests. Insects are not often a problem until the ears begin to form. Entry is through the silk. Sevin dust is very effective when applied directly on the silk, or dusted in the air.

To control corn earworms, some people apply a couple drops of mineral oil on the silk. Apply it after pollination. The mineral oil suffocates the earworms.

Deer are also be a problem if they exist in your area.

Occasionally ,birds will enjoy a meal on your corn. Blue jays are common feeders in cornfields. Try putting up a scarecrow to keep them away. Scarecrows have been in use for thousands of years. All about scarecrows.

Diseases of Corn Plants:

Until the ear begins to form, corn usually experiences few disease problems. Occasionally a fungus develops at the ear. It is a black-ish, purple colored glob. It grows in rainy weather. If corn fungus is present, remove and destroy the plant. Put it in the garbage and not in your compost pile where the fungus can harbor and be transferred to other crops.

Did you Know? That ugly, black-ish, purplish fungus on your corn stalk is edible. It is considered a delicacy to some. In Mexico, it is called "cuitlacoche" .

Plant Problems - Diagnosis, causes and cures for many common plant problems.


Corn is at it's best when the kernels have just filled out. It is best to pick the ears just before eating them. If you need to store it, harvest ears in the morning when it is at it's peak sweetness. Do not shuck the ears, until ready to cook.

  • Corn is ready when the silk has dried and turned a dark brown.

  • If you are inexperienced at picking corn in the field, select an ear that looks ripe. Without taking it off the plant, pull the husk back, just enough to expose the tip of the ear. If it is not ripe, close it back up and tie a "twist tie" around it to seal out the bugs.

  • Pull ears down, while twisting, to break them off the plant.

  • It helps to hold the cornstalk with your free hand. This avoids breaking the stalk of the plant.

On the Grill: On those hot summer days when it is too hot to boil water indoors, try grilling corn. Just soak the ears, husk and all, in a bucket of water for a couple of hours. Then, cook it on your grill, turning regularly. When it's done, pull off the husk, eat and enjoy! Corn on the Cob, Grilled


The plants like it hot. It is somewhat resistant to dry weather. It sends it's roots deep, seeking moisture in the dry summer conditions. It will be one of the last garden vegetables to wilt in the heat of the sun and drought conditions. The plants do not like frost or freezes. Although they may survive light or scattered frosts.

Thought for the Day: If Jimmy cracks corn, and no one cares, why is there a song about him!?

Corn Recipes:

Recipes: May we suggest:

More Gardening Information:

Growing Sweet Corn - more information from Garden Hobbies


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