Corn (Zea mays) is a type of grain first grown in North America more than 4,000 years ago. Today, you can find this beginner-friendly grain thriving throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. If it’s your first time growing corn, several general tips and strategies can ensure a successful planting and a big, juicy harvest of fresh produce.
Soil Preparation for Growing Corn
Start preparing to plant your corn once the outdoor soil temperatures are a minimum of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, recommends Cornell University. Using a traditional garden spade, break up the soil to a depth of 6 inches, removing all weeds, debris and rocks. Then, set a nutritional foundation for your future corn plants by mixing a basic 12-12-12 fertilizer into the top 1/2 foot of soil. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service suggests applying about 2 pounds of fertilizer for every 50 square feet of your backyard gardening plot. Corn plants need high levels of nutrients to grow well, and this pre-planting application helps ensure quick establishment.
To plant your corn kernel, bury the seed 1 inch deep, according to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Because corn plants need proper pollination via wind to produce corn cobs, grow your corn in rows arranged in square blocks instead of creating one or two single rows. For the best results, plant each seed 1 foot apart, and space rows 3 feet apart.
Water your newly planted corn kernels once or twice a day, or as necessary to keep the top 2 inches of soil moist. Once the corn seed has germinated and the baby plants have broken the soil surface, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences notes you must apply irrigation whenever the top 2 inches of soil have dried out, using enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 6 inches. This encourages deep root growth, which makes your corn plants healthier and better able to resist drought conditions.
Corn plants quickly deplete soil nutrient levels, warns Cornell University. To support quick growth and ensure an optimal corn harvest, apply additional fertilizer when the plants are about 6 inches tall, and again when the corn plants are about as tall as your knees, according to Organic Gardening magazine. Use 1/2 pound of 33-0-0 fertilizer for every 50 feet of corn row. Apply the fertilizer in a strip a couple of inches alongside your row of corn, then immediately water the area to help carry the nutrients down to the corn plants’ roots.
The University of Missouri Extension reports that your corn is ready to be harvested about three weeks after silks first appear on the tips of your developing corn cobs. To test, peel back the corn husk slightly and press down on one of the kernels. If it’s ripe, the corn kernel should burst and produce a milky fluid. Grasp the corn cob at its base and pull it down and away from the cornstalk with a quick twisting motion.
1. Organic Gardening: How to Grow Corn
2. The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Sweet Corn
3. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: Growing Sweet Corn
4. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County Extension Master Gardener: Growing Sweet Corn in the Backyard Garden
5. University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences: Growing Home Garden Sweet Corn
6. Cornell University: Growing Guide — Sweet Corn
7. University of Illinois Extension: Corn
8. University of Missouri Extension: Growing Sweet Corn in Missouri