How to Grow Sweet Corn

How to Grow Sweet Corn

Fresh sweet corn is a summer staple anywhere in the country, and one of the most delicious treats that you can grow in your backyard garden in the warm season. While there are regional preferences across the country for some vegetables, everyone loves a fresh ear of sweet corn! Whether it's roasted, boiled, or eaten raw, it's guaranteed to be good. Below we'll give you some general tips and best practices to grow sweet corn in your backyard garden.

Selecting the Right Variety

Choosing a sweet corn variety to grow can be intimidating, especially for new gardeners. There are so many different varieties and it's hard to determine which one might be the best for you. To keep it simple, there are three primary types of sweet corn varieties --  standard (su), sugary-enhanced (se), and supersweet (sh2). We provided the abbreviations there because sometimes that's all seed companies will use to differentiate varieties.

The standard (su) types are older varieties that have been around for decades. These varieties have a lower sugar content, which means they have a shorter harvesting and processing window. If you don't pick these at just the right time, they'll taste starchy instead of sweet.

The supersweet (sh2) types have the highest sugar content. They also have the longest harvesting and processing window, which is usually about 10 days. These varieties are the most popular due to their sweet flavor and ability to hold for days without getting starchy. Lastly, the sugary-enhanced (se) varieties are somewhere in the middle. They're sweeter than the older (su) varieties, but not as sweet as the supersweet (sh2) varieties.

How to Grow Sweet Corn

Preparing the Soil

Corn is a heavy feeding vegetable which means it likes plenty of water and fertilizer. Before planting your corn seeds, add a healthy amount of Coop Gro fertilizer to the planting furrows where your corn rows will go. We recommend using a half-gallon pitcher of Coop Gro per 30' row feet.

Planting Sweet Corn Seeds

Sweet corn is pollinated by the wind. Pollen from the male flower at the top of the  plant (the tassel) is transferred to the female flower (the silks on the ear) via wind. Really small plantings of corn do not usually get pollinated very well, resulting in spotty ears of sweet corn.

As a result, we recommend planting at least three rows of sweet corn at one time. Also try to plant in a square configuration if possible. Long, skinny plots of sweet corn do not usually have very good pollination.

Seeds should be planted approximately 1/2" deep, but seed spacing will vary depending on your irrigation system. If planting sweet corn with drip irrigation or other adequate irrigation systems, you can plant seeds as close as 6" apart along the row. If water will be limited, consider spacing seeds 12" apart along the row.

Caring for Your Sweet Corn Plants

Once your sweet corn plants are approximately 8-12" tall, apply another half gallon scoop of Coop Gro per 30' of row. Sprinkle it alongside the corn rows and use a rake or other shallow garden tool to mix it into the soil beside the plants. Once the corn plants are approximately 18" tall, feed it with a nitrogen-only fertilizer.

Be sure to give the corn plants plenty of water throughout the growth cycle. If the corn leaves every become curled, that means the plants are stressed and need water. You want to see dark green leaves which means the plants have plenty of nutrients, and flat leaves which means they are not water-stressed.

How to Grow Sweet Corn

When to Harvest Sweet Corn

Sweet corn is ready to harvest when the silks turn brown and the kernels on the ears become nice and plump. When the silks (aka female flowers) initially appear, you'll notice that they are white or pink. As the corn ear becomes pollinated and matures, these silks will start to turn brown and dry.

Once the silks turn brown and become crispy, starting checking the corn daily to see how it tastes and if it's ready. All the ears won't likely be ready at the same exact time, but they'll all usually ripen within a week or two.

We often get antsy and like to pick a few ears early before the kernels are completely plump. Fresh sweet corn is so delicious that we can't wait. So we'll start enjoying some of it as soon as we can, while waiting on the rest of it to mature!

Back to blog