Corn: A Growing Guide

There's nothing like the taste of sweet corn picked fresh from the garden, here's how to get it.

how to grow cornCorn is more American than apple pie: It’s been cultivated in North American gardens for more than 4,000 years. Even though it takes a large share of garden space, many gardeners make room for sweet corn because of the unbeatable sweet, corny taste of fresh-picked ears.

The sugar in the kernels of ears of open-pollinated sweet corn varieties starts changing to starch almost as soon as you pick the ears. However, plant breeders have developed dozens of new and ever-sweeter cultivars that retain their sugar content for days. If sweetness is your prime goal, choose varieties listed as supersweet (abbreviated as sh2 in seed catalogs), but keep in mind that these may not be as vigorous as other types of sweet corn. If you prefer good old-fashioned corny flavor, pick standard (su) varieties. For a compromise of sweetness and vigor, choose sugary-enhanced varieties (se). Or, if you like to experiment with the latest innovations, try planting a synergistic variety. These varieties produce ears with a combination of sugary-enhanced kernels and supersweet kernels on each ear. Whichever type you decide to grow, it’s a good idea to check with other local growers or your Cooperative Extension service to see what varieties have a good track record in your area.

If you have lots of garden space, you may also want to try growing some popcorn or ornamental corn, which has similar planting and care needs as sweet corn.

Planting: Corn is very susceptible to frosts. You can lose a crop if you plant too early. Corn doesn’t transplant well, either, so if you garden in a short-season area and want to start corn indoors, use biodegradable pots to avoid disturbing the roots at transplanting time. It’s better to wait until all danger of frost is past and the soil warms up to the 60°F needed for seed germination. If the weather stays cool, spread black plastic on the planting area to warm the soil more quickly.

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