How to Plant Corn in a Small Garden
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Learning how to plant corn in your garden is simple. As long as you provide the plants enough water and keep the pests at bay, you’ll have corn success! And check out this month by month garden planting guide for when to plant everything!
If you are new to gardening, check out:
✔Here’s a link to a great vegetable garden planner you can print right out and use at home! So cute!
Plant corn in a small garden
The first thing to consider when growing corn is where are you going to plant it? Corn needs a lot of space because it is wind-pollinated, so you cannot grow just a little bit of corn. Pollinators are not what carries pollen from one corn plant to the other in order for the kernels of corn to develop on the cob. The pollen is carried on the wind.
Here is my favorite kind of corn to plant from my favorite seed company. It’s an heirloom corn variety but sweeter than most heirlooms. We love it.
How to grow corn in Oklahoma
Corn needs good, loose soil with lots of organic matter. It’s a heavy feeder. If you have hard clay soil, you’ll have to amend the soil with something to give it air such as peat, pine bark mulch, vermiculite, or perlite. While you’re amending it, go ahead and add more organic matter such as compost in the mix. Sand can also loosen up the soil, so if you have that available, you can try that.
Corn will also need a good steady water supply and full sun. Consider what you want to plant your corn next to in your garden. Some good companion plants in the garden for corn are squash which will grow on the ground between the rows and shade the roots of the corn, beans which deposit nitrogen in the soil from their roots and feed the corn.
The combination of beans, corn, and squash was the three sisters’ methods used by Native Americans to grow good crops. Some other good companions for corn include cucumbers, lettuce, melons, and peas.
How deep to plant corn
Plant corn about one knuckle deep about 12 inches apart. Plant the rows 12-18 inches apart and as I said before, at least 4 rows in the block. The more the better. Corn is planted in Oklahoma about mid-April to early May. Check your growing zones.
Place soil over the corn seeds and pat it down about as hard as you would rub your eye. Water well and keep watered at least every other day until the seedlings are about 6 inches tall.
How to grow corn in containers
Corn can be grown in a pot or other small spaces, but as I said, it’s wind-pollinated so you’ll have to pollinate by hand. Many crops can be hand pollinated in different ways.
For corn, when you see the tops of the corn stalk putting off a powdery substance, you’ll take one of the sprigs on the very top and brush it on the tassels on the top of each ear of corn. It’s kind of like painting with a paint brush, but you won’t really be able to see the paint well. Do that once a day and you should get decent pollination.
If you harvest your corn and you don’t have full production (kernels of corn did not develop), it’s from lack of enough pollination, so adjust your methods the next time.
Once your corn plants are established, they’ll need to be watered deeply once a week just like most other plants in the garden.
How long does it take corn to grow
The time corn will take to grow depends on the variety, so check your seed packets for a closer range, but corn, in general, takes 60-100 days to grow.
Corn needs to be fed a good fertilizer like diluted fish emulsion about once a month. Corn is one of the heaviest feeders in the garden. But it’s oh so worth it when you bite into one of those juicy, sweet ears of corn!
The most common pest I’ve seen on corn in my preschool garden in Oklahoma is worms. I have had cutworms come and eat the stem of the seedling and kill the whole plant, but that is rare.
Luckily it happens when they are young and there is usually time to replant and still get a harvest in.
The other kind of worm that I see more commonly is corn earworms. They burrow into the top of the ear of corn at the silk tassel and eat the corn inside while it’s growing. You don’t know they’re in there until harvest time.
Usually, they just eat a few kernels off the top and you can cut that top inch or two off the ear and salvage the ear, but sometimes they infest more heavily and the corn is ruined.
So how can we combat earworms in corn? I have been told you can place a drop of cooking oil on the silks when they first start to grow and that will prevent them. I have used beneficial nematodes to prevent many types of worms in the garden from growing prolifically.
You can also look for sprays that will help control worm populations such as safer brand, dead bug, or other natural remedies. I don’t recommend using anything like 7 dust on products you’re going to eat or live around. That’s my personal preference to live and grow safely. I take it extra seriously because of my children.
You’ll know it’s time to harvest the corn in your garden when the silk tassels on top of each ear have turned completely brown. They don’t usually ripen all at once, but you can harvest each one when theirs is brown and dried. I can’t wait until you taste your first ear of homegrown corn. I hope you tell me all about it. Yum!
How to grow popcorn
It’s easy to learn how to grow popcorn. It grows just like sweet corn or dent corn. It’s all about the seeds you choose. Make sure to choose a variety that says popcorn on the package.
How to prepare fresh sweet corn
Preparing corn for eating is simple. It’s super delicious raw, so try that. If you want to cook it, just boil a large pot of water, add some salt, and drop the cleaned (remove leaves and silks from corn and rinse off) in the water. Boil for about one minute and take them out and cover them in sweet fresh butter.
Fresh corn is also great grilled. Just leave it as is with the leaves on, put it on a hot grill for about 5 minutes, and then peel back the leaves and silks and again, slather it in butter.
Once you have picked the corn, the sugars will start to turn to starch if you wait to long to eat it. So try to eat it within the day.
What to do with excess corn from the garden
If you need to save some corn because you grew a ton (lucky dog) and don’t have time to eat it all, you can, can it, freeze it or dehydrate it. Freezing corn is what we do.
You can either freeze the whole ears with the leaves still on and then when you’re ready to eat them, toss them in a 350 oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Or you can cut the kernels off the cob and blanch them in hot boiling water for about 3 minutes, fish them out with a strainer, and shock them in a bowl of ice water for 1 minute.
Once they are cooled, you can drain them and freeze them in ziplock bags. We don’t can food because I’m not allowed to serve it to the daycare kids, so I don’t have a tutorial on that, but if you want to check this article out on canning corn.
I can’t wait for corn planting and especially eating season. It’s coming right up.
Have you heard of glass gem corn? It was developed right here in Oklahoma and it’s gorgeous!
Don’t forget to pin for later
Can corn be planted close together?
I would love to grow my own sweet corn this year. I am extremely limited in “in-ground” space, so I need to plant most of my veggies in pots. I have quite a bit of space on the driveway for multiple pots (my landlord & I have been growing veggies this way for 26 years).
You mentioned growing corn in containers but you don’t say how big the containers need to be, or how close to plant them. I understand about them being wind pollinated, so I can put the pots side-by-side in groupings to get the best pollination (such as with square foot gardening).
Seed packet instructions have them growing pretty far apart though. I guess they assume we all have acres of land lol.
Also, do you have any suggestions on which sweet corn varieties would do well for me in pots and my area?
I would appreciate any help you can give me.
P.S. I am in Chicagoland.
I would do at least 12 inch deep pots, and I would do them at least 4 to 6 inches apart. For instance, if you were using a 5 gallon bucket, if it were me, I would put 4-6 plants in that. I’m a garden crowder though and sometimes it benefits me and sometimes it doesn’t. So do it at your own risk. I can’t wait to hear all about it!