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What are Some Tips for Growing Sweet Corn in the Garden?

Margo Upson
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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Sweet corn, fresh from the garden, is one of the simple joys of late summer. It is the perfect side dish for any number of meals, and can be prepared several different ways. It isn't difficult to grow your own sweet corn. By following these simple tips, you can be enjoying corn from your own garden this summer.

Growing sweet corn takes a little bit of planning. The soil has to be ready before you begin. Sweet corn needs to be planted in an area that receives at least eight hours of sun a day. The soil should be well-drained and have a pH level between six and six and a half. This number can be achieved through altering the soil. To raise the pH level, powdered limestone can be mixed into the soil the fall before you plan on planting the corn. Cow or chicken manure can also raise the pH level, which is why farmers spread manure over their corn fields.

Sweet corn should be planted after any threat of frost in the area. The soil should be at least 60˚F (15.5˚C), warmer for sweeter varieties. For most areas, this means planting in May or June. Sweet corn varieties should not be mixed together when planting, due to cross pollination. To prevent this, sweet corn varieties should be planted at least 900 feet (300 meters) apart. Corn seeds should be planted one inch deep, one foot apart. Several rows, at least four, should be planted to get the best pollination. Rows should have about 32 inches (82 cm) between them.

Corn needs to be watered often for the best growth. Once the corn has begun to grow, plants require one inch of water a week, more if there is a particularly hot and dry spell. Weeds and debris should be removed from around the corn stalks regularly. When the plants reach eight inches (20.3 cm) tall, and again when they begin to grow tassels, apply a nitrogen fertilizer.

Animals can be a real problem when growing sweet corn. This problem begins when the corn is first planted. Animals will dig up and eat the seeds. Animals, especially deer, will also eat corn plants and the sweet corn itself. There are several ways to keep animals out of your corn.

The first way is to build a fence around your garden. This will keep most animals out. Planting squash in with the corn, a Native American tradition, will also help to keep animals out. The vines are prickly, and difficult to walk through. Using a bug repellent spray on the corn will help to keep garden pests in check. Bug spray comes in many varieties. Destroying the stalks after harvest will also help to keep bugs away.

Corn is ready for harvesting when it reaches the "milk" stage. This is approximately three weeks after the silk around the corn appears. The best way to check corn is to peel back part of the silk and husk, checking the corn itself. When pierced, the corn will leak a milky white fluid. Super-sweet varieties will leak a clear fluid. Corn should be harvested early in the morning. To remove corn from the stalk, twist them at the base and then pull them off. After harvesting, corn should be stored in cool temperatures, around 38˚F (3˚C), and used within a few days.

Growing sweet corn is easy, and a great way to enjoy corn for very little cost. Garden stores not only sell seeds and any gardening tools you may need, but can also provide you with even more tips, including information on the best fertilizers and bug sprays for your area. By keeping these tips in mind when growing sweet corn, you are almost guaranteed a great late summer harvest.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margo Upson
By Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education, Margo Upson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role as a WiseGeek writer. Her wide-ranging interests and skill at diving into new topics make her articles informative, engaging, and valuable to readers seeking to expand their knowledge.

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Discussion Comments
By cougars — On May 21, 2011

@Aplenty- In all honesty, you are better off using natural means of insect management than chemical insecticides. Most corn is so heavily sprayed with earworm insecticide that the earworm larvae have become resistant to most insecticides on the market. Polyculture, crop rotation, and introducing predacious and parasitic insects are the best ways to control your ugly little corn pest. Nature will tell you volumes about how you keep pests out of your crops.

Monoculture practices concentrate the food source of earworms in one easy to access place with few predators nearby to keep populations in check. Monoculture that is not rotated often enough also allows the moths to overwinter right where the food source will spring up the next season, making the problem worse year after year. Ideally, you should introduce compatible crops into the area that will attract more bugs, some of which are natural predators of the earworm.

Predacious insects like the lacewing and ladybird beetle will feed on the larvae and eggs. Parasitic wasps will also lay their eggs in the earworm eggs. The wasp larvae will feed on the earworm larvae, killing the pests and leaving the corn unharmed. The catch is that you need other crops (polyculture) to introduce these predacious and parasitic insects. Tomatoes and certain types of beans are great host plants for these bugs and lead to 40-80% kill rates on earworms in research fields in California.

By istria — On May 19, 2011

@aplenty- I do not know what region you live in, but if possible try planting your corn early so it is ready to harvest before mid-August. The cotton bollworms that so commonly afflict sweet corn are most prevalent in late summer to fall. If you can harvest sooner, you will increase your odds of a worm free harvest dramatically.

Ideally, you should plant your corn when soil temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and at least five days after the last expected frost. If this does not work, try rubbing mineral oil on the silk. It will prevent the worms from boring, but it is only suitable for small corn gardens because it is very time consuming.

By aplenty — On May 17, 2011

How do I prevent the white moths from laying eggs in my corn? Tons of white butterflies or moths must be laying eggs in my corn because every ear of corn has caterpillars eating through the kernels. I am trying to grow an organic garden and this is only my second year. I do not want to use any chemical pesticides. Does anyone have any organic sweet corn growing tips that would help ward off these bugs?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education,...
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