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How to Grow Sweet Corn in Your Own Backyard

Nothing says summer, like picking up corn on your way home for dinner. I remember the first time we tried to grow corn in our first house. Like all young gardeners we didn’t know what were doing. We did about four little rows and we got buck teeth corn.

It’s always a learning process, so the lessons are not wasted, even if your harvest wasn’t what you expected. This year, we’ve really upped our gardening game. I’ve finally decided to purchase a black tarp instead of losing my mind weeding and getting discouraged.

Then we are doing corn, beans, and squash in the other half of the garden! I’m hopeful this may be one of the best gardening years at this house yet.

So, let’s get into how to start growing sweet corn in your backyard, too.

The Three Sisters Method: A Quick Intro

First, have you heard of the Three Sisters method? It’s like the holy trinity of gardening: Corn, beans, and squash live together perfectly, supporting and nourishing each other.

Corn gives the beans a pole to climb, beans bring the nitrogen to the party, and squash plays bouncer, keeping those pesky weeds at bay. It’s nature’s perfect little circle of life, minus the singing lions.

I’m all about companion planting and swear by it every year.

This year, we are using the three-sister method for the first time. We planted our corn last week and will plant the beans this weekend. I’ll update the post and share on social media how it’s turning out.

What You Absolutely Need to Know About Growing Sweet Corn

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk varieties. Not all corn is created equal, my friends. You’ve got your sweet, your super sweet, and your “I can’t believe this is not candy” sweet. Some top picks for backyard sweet corn include ‘Honey and Cream’, ‘Silver Queen‘, and ‘Early Sunglow‘.

Choose wisely because your summer BBQ bragging rights are on the line. Also, if you are ordering seeds online, choosing varieties that grow best in your growing region is important.

Can You Grown Corn in Containers?

So many people are wondering if they can grow corn in containers. In theory, it’s possible, but let’s be honest here – sweet corn is a tall drink of water and needs all the space it can get.

Plus, you’ll need to plant multiple stalks for good pollination. So unless you have giant pots and a lot of patience and money to drop on containers, I’d stick to traditional ground planting.

The cost of a giant container wouldn’t be worth the few corn stalks you’d end up planting. You don’t need much space to plant corn in the ground. If you were hoping to grow corn in containers, check out the tips and tricks to learn how to develop it in your backyard instead.

the three sister method for growing sweet corn

The Shopping List (aka What You Need to Grow Corn)

  • Corn Seeds or Corn Plants: Yes, they have to start from somewhere.
  • Temperature: Corn is like that friend who loves the beach—it thrives in warmth. Think 60°F (15°C) and up. Soil temperature for seed germination is best at at least a consistent 50°F.
  • Sun: Full sun. Like sunscreen and hat level of sun.
  • Soil: Rich, well-drained soil and as fertile as the mind of Shakespeare.
  • Watering: Consider corn like a needy houseplant; it loves its water.
  • Fertilizing: Sweet corn is a bit of a diva and needs its nutrients.

So, you’ll want your soil to be well-drained with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8. I learned this the hard way after a few failed attempts. You’ll also need a spot that gets full sun for most of the day—yep, I found out my shady corner wasn’t cutting it.

Corn grows like crazy when it gets enough water, so investing in a soaker hose or a sprinkler system to keep the soil moist is a game-changer.

We decided to try corn in a spot that generally stays pretty wet, and I’m hoping this will yield the best harvest yet.

I’ve read that regularly feeding your corn with this amazing water-soluble plant food will have you harvesting a bigger crop sooner than you think. And here’s a nifty trick, I swear, by adding a 3-inch layer of mulch.

Not only does it keep the soil from drying out in the blazing sun, but it also fights off those pesky weeds. I’ll use straw for my mulching in the garden because we usually have some leftovers from winter, and it’s cheap in our area.

growing corn in our backyard

How Many Seeds to Plant

More is more, right? Well, not exactly. Give them some space. Think about how awkward it is when someone invades your bubble – corn feels the same way.

For the highest rate of success, plant 3 seeds together about every 7-15 inches. Corn seeds germinate quickly, about 7-10 days, and you can then thin to one plant about every 15 inches to ensure plenty of spacing.

If you do end up with some overcrowding, just trim off the extra stalks at ground level. This will give the remaining plants more room to grow without too much disturbance.

You can also just drop one seed per space. This works for us usually as long as the chickens don’t escape!

How close should you plant corn? About 8 inches (20 cm) apart, with rows spaced about 30-36 inches (76-91 cm) apart. This will give them enough room to grow and produce those delicious ears of corn we all know and love. This is how you can really grow a lot of corn even in smaller spaces.

We have 200 corn plants in this size garden. Figure we’ll get two ears per stalk- fingers crossed.

growing sweet corn in our backyard

Tips for Growing the Perfect Sweet Corn

  • Keep an eye on moisture levels: Corn needs consistent and even moisture to grow properly. Don’t let it dry out, but also don’t over-water.
  • Mulch: Mulching around your corn plants helps to retain moisture and keep weeds at bay. Plus, it looks pretty tidy.
  • Fertilize regularly: As mentioned before, corn is a bit of a diva in terms of nutrients. For the best results, fertilize every 3-4 weeks with a balanced fertilizer.

The Best Temperature to Grow Sweet Corn

Temperature plays an important part when growing corn. While it can tolerate a wide range, the ideal temperature for corn growth is between 70-95°F (21-35°C). This means spring and summer are the perfect seasons for growing sweet corn.

For seeds to germinate you really want temps above 50°.

We mix our fertilizer in the fall and rototill it in the garden. It consists of livestock manure, dried leaves, grass clippings, and more.

It is best to add this in the fall, but you can still add it this season before planting. I find that chicken manure is the only one that really needs to sit before being added straight to the garden.

The first year we moved to our farmhouse and added chicken manure without it being fully composted, it burned out all my plants.

how to grow sweet corn in your backyard

SOME OF THE MOST RECOMMENDED VARIETIES OF SWEET CORN INCLUDE:

  • Honey Select: This sweet, yellow corn matures in 75 days. It has large, tender kernels and excellent disease resistance.
  • Silver Queen: A popular white corn variety that takes around 92 days to mature. It has high yields and a deliciously sweet flavor.
  • Peaches & Cream: A bicolor corn with both white and yellow kernels. It has a creamy texture and is ready for harvest in about 80 days.
  • Glass Gem: This unique variety produces multicolored kernels resembling shiny glass beads. It matures in around 100 days and is sure to make your garden stand out.
  • Country Gentlemen: A popular heirloom variety with pure white kernels and a fantastic flavor. It takes around 80 days to mature and is great for canning or freezing.

Watering Tips for Sweet Corn

the three sister method with growing sweet corn

You can see our beans popping up among the weeds beside the corn. Once everything gets a bit more established, I’ll go around and weed and possibly put straw down; it depends on time. This year, we are still in softball season with the kids.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Corn

  1. Wait for the frost to say goodbye because corn is not a fan of the cold shoulder.
  2. Find a sunny spot. Corn grows best in six hours of full sun.
  3. Prep your soil like you’re prepping for the gardening Olympics. Think rich, think fertile.
  4. Plant your seeds about an inch deep and give them about 9-12 inches of personal space.
  5. Water generously. Think of it as watering your hopes and dreams.

Harvesting: The Moment of Truth

You’ll know it’s gone time when the silks turn brown, and the kernels feel like they could pop into popcorn at any moment.

our backyard wiht corn and vegetable garden growing sweet corn in 2024

Can You Start Corn Indoors?

Technically, yes. But let’s be honest here: starting corn seeds indoors is like trying to raise a wild animal in your living room. It’s just not meant to be tamed. Corn plants have deep root systems and can grow up to 8 feet tall. It’s worth your time and effort to sow corn directly, usually a couple of weeks after your last frost date.

This is usually the middle to end of May for us in Western NY.

You know, corn is one of those crops that really loves a long, warm growing season. So, my advice? Plant it as soon as you can. If you’re like me, living where summer feels like a fleeting moment, an early variety of corn might be your best bet.

That way, you can actually harvest your corn before that pesky first fall frost sneaks up on you. Trust me, nothing’s worse than watching your hard work get nipped in the bud!

growing sweet corn in your own backyard

The Watch-Outs

The part I hate about gardening is the pests and diseases.

Some of the most common pests on corn are corn borers, earworms, cutworms, and Japanese beetles. If you spot any of these critters, natural methods exist to control them, such as planting companion plants or using organic pesticides.

We are using Neem oil to protect our plants from bugs, and it has worked wonders. Just follow the instructions carefully, or you may have a less-than-tasty corn crop.

Look for common diseases such as the following:

  • Gray leaf spot is the number one disease in all corn production areas and can cause serious yield loss.
  • Stewart’s wilt is a bacterial disease that is only spread by corn flea beetles, which overwinter in crop debris
  • Southern leaf blight is a fungal disease caused by the fungus Cochliobolus heterostrophus. It can cause significant yield losses if left untreated.
  • Anthracnose — affects the stalks, leaves and grain kernels.
  • Northern corn leaf blight is another common fungal disease that appears as long, elliptical lesions on the leaves.


Mulching and Storing: The Afterparty

Mulch like it’s going out of style because moisture is key. We planted in a spot that stays pretty wet, and I’m probably going to pass on mulching this year, but again, every area is different.

Think dark and, most importantly, quickly when it comes to storing. Corn waits for no one.

And there you have it, folks, a beginner’s guide to growing sweet corn that even your grandma would approve of. Now, plant those seeds, and may the odds of nature be ever in your favor.

Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about having fun, getting dirty, and enjoying the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor. Happy gardening!

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