Corn: Planting Variations

by National Gardening Association Editors

If you like experimenting, there are some variations on the basic planting methods you may want to try.

Double Rows

Corn can handle a little crowding, so try planting it in double rows to save space. Double rows are simply two regular rows planted 8 to 10 inches apart. The only difference is that double rows need a little more fertilizer.

Double rows are easy to irrigate, especially if you use soaker hoses or drip irrigation for an even water supply. Double rows also increase the chances for good pollination, because the rows are close together. You save space because you can fit four rows into the space of two.

It's a snap to keep the weeds down in double rows -one swipe down the middle with a narrow hoe or hand weeding takes care of two rows at once. Once the plants have grown some, their leaves will shade the soil between the rows discouraging many weeds.

To plant double rows, stake two planting lines, side by side, about 10 inches apart. Stagger plant the seeds 10 to 12 inches apart in each of the two rows. Hill planting won't work very well in double rows because the plants will be too crowded.

Walkways need to be 24 to 36 inches wide between each set of double rows, just as with single rows.

Furrows

Plant corn in 4- to 6-inch furrows, firming the seeds and covering them with 1 to 1 1/2 inches of soil. In a furrow you can plant either in rows or hills. Once the seedlings emerge, fill in the furrow with another 2 inches of soil, being careful not to cover up the plants. As the corn grows, hill the soil around the stems by adding another inch or two of soil every week.

Adding soil keeps out weeds and gives added support to the stalks. This early soil support anchors the plants and helps them stay upright, even in high winds. By keeping weeds down, corn can grow tall and healthy without competition for food and water. Because the roots are deeper than corn planted on level ground, furrow-planted corn often needs less watering. You can also get a jump on the growing season by covering the newly planted furrow with clear plastic for frost protection and quicker germination.

Presprouting

Use presprouting to test the germination rate of seed that's more than a year old. You can also presprout to have completely germinated early corn.

To presprout seeds or to test germination, fold four paper towels into one. Moisten them and sprinkle the seeds onto the moist towel mat. Even though you're sprouting the seeds indoors, it's a good idea to use treated seed to protect them when they're planted outside.

If you want to presprout all your seeds for planting, sprinkle 25 to 30 seeds on each paper towel mat, using as many mats as you need. Roll each mat jelly-roll fashion, being careful the seeds remain evenly spaced. Next, roll up each paper towel cylinder in a damp facecloth.

Put the roll-ups in a plastic bag. Don't seal the bag -- air needs to circulate for germination. Place the "seed sprouter" in a warm spot for four to six days. As soon as the seeds germinate, take them out and plant them. Plant sprouted seeds just as you would unsprouted.

If you're just testing germination, you need to use only 10 seeds. If seven seeds sprout, you'll have about 70 percent germination for that batch of seeds. If you sprout seeds to test germination and the results show a rate less than 100 percent, you'll need to plant enough extra seeds to make up the difference. For instance, if the germination rate is 75 percent, plant 25 percent more for a full row or hill.

Transplanting

Although it's easy to plant corn outdoors the traditional "seed into soil" way, some gardeners like to start corn indoors and transplant the young seedlings. The benefits of transplanting are that you get an early start and you know that each of your seeds will produce a corn plant. It can also save space in small gardens because you don't have to take more room to plant extra seed to ensure a good stand. If you plant supersweet varieties, which often have problems germinating in cool soils, transplanting can help.

If you want to try transplanting corn, sow the seeds in individual peat pots. Start seeds four to five weeks before the average last frost date in your area. Give the seedlings plenty of light and regular doses of food and water. When they're established, harden them off for about a week before you want to plant. To harden them off, place them outdoors protected from sun and wind for increasingly long periods of time. In a few days, they can be left out all night. They're ready for transplanting in 7 to 10 days. Plant each seedling in well-worked soil.

Raised Beds

A raised bed is garden soil that's been raised six to eight inches. Corn does best in soil with good drainage, so raised beds can provide quite a boost for corn in less-than-ideal soil conditions. For instance, a patch of land that takes forever to dry in the spring or one that stays wet after each rain are the last places you want to grow corn. Raised beds with loose soil, however, can counteract those problems. In raised beds, the soil dries faster after rain and is ready to plant earlier in the spring.

You can make raised beds any time the soil is workable. For earlier corn planting in the spring, make them the preceding fall. If you make them in the early spring, the crop will still be able to take advantage of the added soil warmth. Raised beds keep the soil 5&deg F to 10&deg F warmer.

To make a raised bed, work the soil well. Stake the first row the length and width you want. Then, use a hoe or rake to pull 3 to 4 inches of loose soil from the far walkway. Don't walk on the walkway until after you've drawn soil from it. If you do, the earth will pack down, making it more difficult. You're actually lowering the walkways at the same time you're raising the bed. If you take 3 to 4 inches of soil from the walkway and add it to the bed, the difference will be a 6- to 8-inch-high raised bed. Rake the tops of the beds to smooth them out, then plant as usual. Don't walk on the raised beds.

To use raised beds wisely, plant corn in double rows on beds that are about 16 inches wide. By placing two raised beds of double-row corn close together, you have the four rows needed for good pollination.

Once the corn is planted, care for it just as if it were planted on level ground.

Interplanting

You can save garden space and ward off animal pests by interplanting pole beans, winter squash, pumpkins or gourds with your corn. Pole beans climb right up the corn stalks, and vine crops spread between the stalks. Neither interferes with the corn's growth. The dense foliage and prickly vines in the corn rows are also supposed to keep out raccoons, which are pests in some areas.

Interplant vine crop seeds when you plant your corn. Plant in rows or hills between the corn rows. Once the vines start to run, you won't be able to cultivate between the rows. When it's time to side-dress the corn with additional fertilizer, sprinkle it carefully so it doesn't touch the squash or pumpkin foliage. Also, when harvesting the corn, take care not to step on the vines, as this might damage or kill the sensitive plants. Harvest the vine crops in the fall when they're fully mature.

To interplant pole beans, wait until your corn is six to eight inches tall. Plant the beans on the sunny, southern side of the cornpatch on the outer rows. Plant two or three beans seeds around every third or fourth cornstalk. Later, thin the beans to one plant for each stalk. Guide the growing beans up the corn stalks and harvest both crops as usual.

Corn-in-a-Tub

If you don't have enough land to grow a good stand of corn but you've got a good sunny spot, you can still look forward to a sweet corn harvest. It's easy to grow corn in a washtub, bushel basket or other large container. The tall plants can add a nice touch (and even some privacy) to a patio, deck or lawn.

Most seed companies offer midget corn varieties that are supposed to be best for container growing. However, the kind you'd normally raise in a garden usually works just as well in tubs. Try growing early varieties, such as 'Earlivee' or 'Early Sunglow', because they're hardy and fairly short stalked. Be sure to select a variety that produces more than one ear per plant to make the best use of limited space.

Although it's possible to harvest healthy ears of corn from just four plants grown in a single container, you'll have the best results with about a dozen plants. A larger group of plants ensures complete pollination, so consider grouping several tubs together in your "container garden."

Fill each container with loose, rich soil. Make sure to add enough fertilizer for these heavy feeders. If you're using a large basket, line it with plastic to keep in both soil and moisture. Plant corn seeds about 4 inches apart, covering them with 1 inch of soil.

When the seeds sprout and are about six inches tall, thin the plants so they're about eight inches apart. From then on, stay on the lookout for insects and diseases, and be sure the plants have a steady supply of food and water. Keep in mind that compared with garden-grown corn, container-grown corn has a limited amount of soil around the roots. Give it enough water that it never runs dry. It's almost impossible to overwater container corn, so check it regularly. Give the plants a dose of water-soluble plant fertilizer about once a week, and they should produce beautifully.

When the plants tassel, help pollinate by gently shaking the stalks. You can look forward to a mini-harvest in about three weeks.



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