Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Corn Growing: Getting Started

by National Gardening Association Editors

Corn is a warm-weather vegetable that grows best during the long, sunny days of summer. The standard rule of thumb for seeding corn is to plant it two weeks before the last expected frost date. To extend your harvest a few weeks, stagger your corn plantings. This also prevents accidental cross-pollination of certain varieties.

Time your plantings by checking the days to maturity and counting back from the date you want to begin harvesting. One thing to remember is that the harvest time may vary slightly if the weather is very cool or very warm during the growing season. Timing your corn plantings is especially helpful if you're planning a midsummer vacation away from home. You needn't miss a single, delicious ear if you plan it right.

Soil and Site

Corn likes rich soil with good drainage. Ideal soil for corn is sandy loam that stays moist, without being too wet. The fastest way to improve less-than-perfect soil is to add plenty of organic matter (leaves, compost, grass clippings and crop residues). If your soil is too sandy, organic matter will help it retain nutrients and moisture, which are vital to corn. If you have heavy clay soil, organic matter will wedge between the soil's tightly compacted particles to loosen it and improve its drainage.

Corn has the same needs as most vegetables when it comes to soil pH (acidity or alkalinity). The best range for all vegetables is between 5.8 and 6.8 on the pH scale. This measurement indicates that soil is slightly acidic (the scale runs from 0 to 14, with 7 marking the neutral point). Anything below 7 is acid; anything above is considered alkaline. Contact your local extension service to have your soil tested every few years to be sure the pH is at an acceptable level. To raise or lower your soil's pH, you add lime or sulphur, and specific amounts are usually recommended in the test results.

As you're planning your garden, whether on paper or in your head, arrange the corn so it will be in at least four side-by-side rows to ensure good pollination. Be sure it gets full sun, away from trees that might shade it. Most corn varieties are tall and can shade shorter crops, so plant corn on the north or east side of the garden.

If you're growing corn for the first time, you may need to enlarge your existing garden. All you need to "sod bust" or turn a patch of lawn or an overgrown garden into a productive seedbed is a spade or tiller. Although it's best to break new ground the fall before you want to plant, you can create a new garden in the spring with fairly good results.

If you spade an area by hand, dig it to a depth of 8 to 10 inches and turn each spadeful of soil bottom-side up. This helps to keep grass from resprouting. Keep working the soil by chopping and stirring it, breaking up the clumps to make it loose and friable.

A tiller will also turn over sod to create a loose, friable seedbed. Till the soil back and forth until the seedbed is worked 8 to 10 inches deep.

If you've grown corn before in the same garden, change the place where you plant it, or rotate it, every year. This can be tricky if you don't have lots of garden space, but when you rotate corn, you prevent disease and pest problems from recurring. You also keep your garden's natural fertility in balance by moving heavy feeders, like corn, around. If your garden is too small for yearly rotation, rotate it at least every second or third season. If you run into a bad insect or disease problem one year, rotation the following season is a must.

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