How To Grow Sweet Corn In Your Garden

The first time you grow sweet corn you quickly appreciate it’s full flavor when it goes directly from your garden to your table. Fortunately, growing it is pretty easy if you have enough garden space.

sweet corn

My summer isn’t complete without fresh sweet corn from my vegetable garden. The flavor of an ear of sweet corn eaten within an hour of being picked is light years better than supermarket sweet corn. Growing the perfect ear requires a bit of work, but it’s worth every ounce of energy you exert.

Allow enough space in your garden

The first requirement is sufficient space in your vegetable garden . Sweet Corn pollinates best when it’s grown in a block as opposed to a row. This is because corn is a member of the grass family and like grains, it’s wind pollinated. So if you’re using raised vegetable garden beds you’ll have to use at least two adjacent beds (or adjacent sections of beds) to see successful pollination. If you grow your corn in just one row, you may end up with ears that have only cob where kernels should be.

Germinate corn seed quickly

One of the key requirements of successful sweet corn is getting the seed to germinate quickly. This is strictly a function of soil temperature. Plant too early and the corn seed will not warm enough to germinate. Plant too late and the heat of the summer will fry the young plants. According to the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, soil temperature (not air temperature) should be 80 degrees when you plant sweet corn. I’ve found it sufficient to be in the 70 degree range, which here in USDA Zone 6 is usually the week after Memorial Day, unless we have an unusually hot May.

Sweet corn is fussy about transplanting

USFA Corn Poster Corn seedlings do not like to be transplanted (only those using soil blocks and greenhouses seem to have success with this), so I don’t suggest you start the seed indoors early like tomatoes and peppers. Also check the weather forecast before planting. If you sow just before heavy rains, the excess water may cause your corn seed to rot in place. Allow four days of fair weather for corn seed to germinate.

Don’t plant all at once

The amount of sweet corn you’ll harvest from just one packet of seeds can be overwhelming. If you’re just feeding your family, plant 1/3 of your seeds ten days apart (in adjacent blocks) over 30 days. I do three plantings throughout June and the harvest works out perfectly-we can eat it all. The first year I planted corn, I planted all the seed at once and I ended up giving away most of it because we couldn’t eat the corn fast enough.

Use an organic fertilizer liberally and water regularly

Sweet Corn also like more than its fair share of water and nitrogen – it’s a very heavy feeder. Right after planting, add an organic fertilizer to the bed, so the plants get a steady feed through the season. You should also prepare your corn beds at least one month beforehand by working in plenty of composted manure or compost from kitchen scraps and yard waste. Make sure your corn is irrigated on a regular basis. For how large the corn plant is, it has a surprisingly shallow root structure, which allows the roots to dry out very quickly. When seedlings, three days without water under the summer sun and they start to droop.

Follow these basics and you’ll experience the flavor of sweet corn like you never have before. For more detailed information, here’s an excellent fact sheet from the University Of Illinois Extension on growing corn and recommended varieties.

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About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google

2 Responses to How To Grow Sweet Corn In Your Garden

  1. Bob Walasek says:

    After my corn gets a few inches tall, I like to plant a couple of pole bean seeds at the base of each plant. When the corn gets to be around 3-4 ft. tall, I pound a metal fence post into the ground at each end of the row and stretch a piece of twine between them about 4 ft. high. This provides a support for the climbing bean vines which are by now growing and twining up the corn stalks. Now my corn is actually supported by the bean vines which are supported by the twine. When that next big wind comes up my crop has a much better chance of surviving!

    • Todd Heft says:

      That’s a fantastic idea! I tried growing pole beans in my corn and it became quite a mess, especially after I harvested the corn and the beans were still producing, growing up, over and through the slowly dying stalks. I may try your idea this year.