Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques

How to Have the Earliest Corn

by National Gardening Association Editors


If you live in the North, it's not too hard to grow corn that's "knee high by the Fourth of July," and if you live farther south you can easily beat that date. The advantage of early corn pays off if you want to sell it at a roadside stand. Choose an early variety like 'Earlivee', 'Early Sunglow' or 'Quickie'. Plan to plant four to six weeks before the last frost date in your area. It's a good idea to use treated seed to prevent damping-off and other diseases.

Planting Early

Plant the seed about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep -- a little deeper than usual. If you want to, you can cover the rows with a plastic tunnel for extra heat or with chicken wire to protect the seeds from birds.

Corn germinates best at soil temperatures above 55&deg F and can't germinate in soil that's too cool, so the seeds may take longer to come up than you'd expect. After the first hot sunny spring day, however, you'll see the seedlings shoot up and take off.

When the seedlings are 8 to 10 inches high, give them their first dose of fertilizer. Side-dress with a balanced fertilizer and then water. Side-dress again when the plants are knee-high, and give a third nutrient boost when they tassel. Soon afterward you'll have the first local corn.

Undercover Corn

As a heat-loving plant, corn is easily set back during a cold spell, especially immediately after planting. Some gardeners like to protect their corn seeds and seedlings from cold weather by covering their rows or hills with plastic sheets or hot caps. This is one way to guarantee an early harvest of your early corn, but you may find it's more work than it's worth.

An easier solution to the threat of cold weather is to plant early corn deeper and use no fertilizer. If a corn seedling is zapped by cold weather, as long as the plant is less than 12 inches high, it will usually recover and start growing again. This is due to the location of corn's "growing point," the place where new growth begins.

Every vegetable plant has a growing point, and a frost-sensitive plant can be killed if its growing point is hit by a freeze. In the first weeks of growth, corn's growing point lies below the soil surface, protected from frost. Although it eventually reaches the soil surface and grows above it, this doesn't happen until the corn plant is about a foot tall -- about 21 days after planting, and that's quite a frost-beating edge. Naturally, if you fertilize, the plant will grow faster and be susceptible to frost that much sooner.

If you're planting early, relax for the first three weeks after planting. Mother Nature is providing the vital frost protection corn needs.

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