Corn is usually grown in infinite rows in a corn field, but you can easily grow corn in your own backyard. I knew I wanted a sweet corn, so I found some here called Golden Bantam, a golden yellow, sweet corn good for eating with lots of butter. The colorful corn are so pretty and most are edible. I picked up some of these Painted Mountain corn from Baker Creek Seed Co.
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Seed Starting Method
I prefer the paper towel method for starting seeds because it allows me a certain amount of additional control. The paper towel method is simply sprinkling your seeds onto a damp paper towel, and placing them in a covered container.
Once you see a “tail” emerge, they are ready to be planted. This is really handy because you can space out the seeds as you like instead of thinning them later. Saves me a lot of seeds each year and allows me to plant more plants.
Corn seeds should be direct sown into the soil where you want them to grow. You can start them in peat pucks or coconut coir pucks, but you’ll just be wasting time and resources. Best to plant the softened seeds directly.
This year, I planted all of my corn in my raised beds. For me, raised beds are a necessity because the Oklahoma Red Dirt is mostly clay, and also because there are a lot of different cables and lines buried in my backyard. A major cable and digital phone provider has a green box in the corner of my backyard, so no digging unless I want the whole neighborhood mad at me. I’ve had it flagged before and it’s a minefield out there, so raised beds and containers for me!
Corn needs to be fertilized twice in its life cycle. Your soil should already contain some fertilizers already, so wait to fertilize until 4 or 5 weeks of growth. Corn likes a pH of around 6.0-6.8. They love nitrogen and benefit from a top dressing of composted manure, mushroom compost, or coffee grounds.
If you prefer to use liquid fertilizer, my favorite is Neptune’s Harvest Tomato and Veg Formula . According to the product page, it’s “Made with fresh fish, molasses, yucca extract, seaweed and humic acids”, so don’t spill it on your shoes! Shooooooweee it stinks! Ask me how I know. Neptune’s also offers an Organic Fish and Seaweed Blend (equally smelly).
I like liquid fertilizer like this because it’s easy to pour a cap-full into my large watering can and water like normal. Combine this method with a coffee grounds routine. When you head out to water, grab your morning coffee’s spent coffee grounds, and spread it out near the base of your nitrogen-loving plants. You’ll only have 6-8 tablespoons to spread around for one pot of coffee, so do a rotation of which plants get the coffee treat.
Corn likes to be planted in long, multiple rows to allow for wind-based pollination. However, if you are planting in a suburban backyard raised bed, you don’t have room for all that. Three rows takes up at least half of a 4×8 raised bed. You could use an entire 4×8 bed and have 32 plants, but if you are limited on space, you may not want to grow only corn.
The solution is to hand pollinate. Corn has both sexes on the every plant, so you can use a paintbrush or wax paper bag to transfer it. The pretty fountain that grows from the top of the plant is called the tassel this is the male part and produces pollen. It’s best to collect the pollen in the morning between 9am and 11am. The window for pollination is only about a week long.
Let’s Get It On
The female part is the ear of corn itself. It hangs off the side around the middle of the stalk and you’ll see hairs coming out of the top. These hairs are called the silks and each one is connected to one corn kernel. Each silk hair needs to be pollinated or you will have bare spots on your cobs.
There are a couple of ways to collect the pollen. You can put a wax paper bag around the tassel, you can cut the tassel off and put it in a paper bag, or use it as a duster. If you have planted more than one variety of corn in the same raised bed, it’s best to use a paper bag method to keep the plants from cross pollinating.
This is what happened to me the first year when I planted Golden Bantam Yellow Sweet Corn and Painted Mountain Corn. They cross pollinated and I ended up with a mix of the two on all of my cobs. It was interesting to unwrap as each one was a surprise, but I didn’t get any true yellow cobs, so we didn’t have any to eat.
Once you have collected the pollen, use a paintbrush to gently brush the pollen onto the female hairs. Try your best to get pollen on each and every hair as each one is connected to a corn kernel. If you miss some hairs, your cobs will have bare spots.
Help! My corn has a gangsta lean!
When your corn gets blown over by wind or knocked over by a dog, it will lean. This is called “lodging” and there are a couple of things you can do about it. The first thing is to water it, then pile up a bunch of soil around the base. Next, use a plant prop to help them stay upright.
To check and see if your corn is ready for harvesting, look for the silk hairs to see if they are all dried up at the ends. Corn cobs are usually ready around 20 days after the silks appear. Peel back the husk a little bit and see if you can see any kernels at the top. The top kernels are the last to grow, so if you see kernels on top, plus the dried ends of the silks, your corn is ready.
To make the most of your corn experience, you need some corn forks, a set of these adorable corn dishes (for bathing your cobs in melted butter), and this corn cob grill basket for the best tasting corn ever. Elotes, anyone? ME!!
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