Gardening Articles: Care :: Soil, Water, & Fertilizer
by National Gardening Association Editors
Corn doesn't need any more attention than other garden vegetables, but it's a crop that can take up a fair amount of time if you plant a lot. Make it easier by combining tasks. For instance, when you side-dress, pull any weeds you see, or side-dress at the same time you hill the rows.
Like any plant, corn produces better if it doesn't have to compete with weeds. It's especially important to keep weeds out when corn plants are young. Once the stems and leaves are established, they can tolerate weeds better. Plus, the stems and leaves of larger corn plants shade the soil somewhat to block out weeds.
Weed your corn every few weeks, starting before you even plant a seed. Work the soil several times before planting. This not only conditions the soil, it stirs up and kills tiny weed seeds lurking near the surface. It also buries some seeds so deeply that they never get a chance to sprout.
Once the corn is planted, scratch the surface of the planting bed every week or so with a weeding rake. When the corn is tall enough to be hilled, you'll automatically get rid of weeds by covering them with soil as you hill.
Hilling is pulling up soil to mound it around the base of a plant. When you hill a young corn plant, the added soil around its stem helps support it as it grows taller. This protects it from being blown over in a strong wind. To really anchor plants, it's a good idea to hill corn every two to three weeks until the plants start to tassel.
Hilling also covers and smothers any weeds around the base of your corn plants. You might say you're creating a "soil mulch" around your plants. If dryness is a problem, extra soil helps the corn roots retain moisture.
You can hill with a hoe by scooping a few inches of soil from the walkways into loose mounds on both sides of the corn. If you want, you can hill your corn by machine, using a tiller with a special hilling attachment. This is both faster and easier than using a hoe, and it also does a uniform job.
The more you feed corn, the more it will feed you, so side-dressing (a second dose of fertilizer that boosts growth) is a must with corn.
You can use any high-nitrogen fertilizer to side-dress corn, because nitrogen is the plant nutrient needed. A commercial fertilizer such as 10-10-10 works well, but you can also use well-composted or dehydrated manure, or commercial organic fertilizers like cottonseed meal.
Side-dress corn twice: when it's knee high and when it tassels. To side-dress, sprinkle a thin line of fertilizer or manure about four inches from the plants on both sides of each row of corn. To side-dress hill-planted corn, simply sprinkle fertilizer around each hill, about four inches away from the cornstalks. It often helps to make a shallow furrow first for either rows or hills. The furrow serves as a guide and the indentation helps the fertilizer stay put.
If you side-dress shortly before it rains, you're lucky. Otherwise, you should water, so the fertilizer leaches into the soil where it can be taken up by the corn roots.