Growing Corn for the Home Gardener

Growing corn in the home garden is a little different from growing in the farm fields. Corn has a few traits that you need to understand before you plant so that you can get a successful crop of corn in the late summer and fall. Let’s talk about growing corn as it applies to a home gardener!

Planting Corn in the Home Garden

Corn has a few things in regard to planting that you need to know. First corn is wind pollinated. That means that insects and pollinators aren’t factors for good pollination. When planting corn we have to make sure we situate the plants in a way to get good wind pollination. That means we plant corn in blocks! When planting corn in blocks it doesn’t matter which direction the wind flows in because the wind will pollinate another corn plant in the block.

If you planted corn in a single row you will have very poor pollination which will result in low formation of kernels on the cob. Each corn silk on the corn plant will create it’s own kernel.

Direct Sowing Corn Seed in the Garden

Each kernel is a seed for a new corn plant which will eventually produce about 2 cobs. When you buy corn the kernels are completely dehydrated and shriveled up so you can save some growing time by doing one simple step: re-hydrating the corn seed by soaking it.

Re-hydrate the corn kernels

Soaking your corn seeds isn’t practical if you are planting a big field with a tractor but for the home gardener re-hydrating the corn kernels is easy and very beneficial. Think about it, the kernels would have to first absorb all that moisture before they can start to grow in the garden. Moisture from watering and rain could be spotty and irregular but you can make sure it starts off great. If you give the seeds 12 to 24 hours to soak up all the water they can you prime your corn seed for planting!

Planting Depth

After you have soaked your corn seeds its time to plant in the garden. Make holes at least 1 inch in the ground and up to 3 inches deep. You can watch the video of how we do this below but we use a hoe and take one of the pointed corners to create a trench with the proper depth.

Spacing Corn

You will find a variety of information on the proper spacing for corn. We planted our corn at 8 inches apart with rows about 6 inches apart. It’s a tight formation and I wouldn’t recommend any closer. If you have a larger space consider spacing the rows a little farther apart for accessibility. Probably 12 inches at a minimum but I’ve seen anywhere from 12 to 36 inches.

Once you have planted the corn to the spacing gently cover the seeds either by hand or with the hoe. You can see how we planted our corn in the video below. We planted variety called Atomic Orange which has a very dark orange color.

Tractor Supply

Fertilizing Corn in the Home Garden

Corn needs a higher nitrogen and phosphorus amount than potassium. I grow with organic fertilizers so bloodmeal is ideal for corn. It’s a 12-0-0 NPK ratio. Also you can’t go wrong with compost! Fully composted manures can be an excellent additive for your corn crop.  Keep in mind that corn is a heavy feeder and will need nitrogen on a regular basis. Plan on fertilizing at 6 inches tall and again at 10 inches tall with a high nitrogen fertilizer or continually apply compost to the area. After your corn crop is harvested this area will need replenished with compost or a cover crop that will replenish the nutrient depletion.

Harvesting Corn

Corn is ready to be harvested at different times depending on the variety. Most varieties are around 80-90 days. Look for brown tassels and green husks and check one or two ears on the plant to see what the formation of kernels looks like. Your corn should be ready about 20 days after the formation of the silks. If it looks good then you are all set to harvest! Most corn varieties will produce about 2 cobs per stalk.

Seed Saving

If you have only grown one variety of corn or have spaced out your crops so pollination is about 2 weeks apart you should be able to harvest your corn seed for use next year. Let a few corn cobs dry on the plant and bring them indoors before winter. Gather the seed from the corn cob and save in a cool dry place until next spring.

Corn cross pollinates very frequently so in order to make sure you can harvest the same type of corn each year space out the planting of corn varieties by two to three weeks. You can also space out your corn about 400 yards but most of us don’t have that kind of space in our gardens!

Problems with Growing Corn

Corn can have several diseases and issues that can arise. Corn smut, corn earworms, corn seed maggots, southern corn rootworm, wireworms, aphids, flea beetles, armyworms, borers and more! Yikes! The University of Clemson has a good factsheet with these pests as well as a couple more listed that I would recommend checking out. It’s good to know your enemies in the garden! Once you know what is damaging your garden you can come up with a plant to take care of it.

Can you Make Money Growing Corn?

If you have enough space corn can earn you a little money (and I mean a little) but you need a large area to make a significant profit. Prices on a dozen ears of corn range from $3 to $6. If you planted and grew a garden with 100 stalks of corn you might have up to 200 ears of corn. That assumes that you don’t save any for yourself and that you have a good ear with very little pest and disease issues. If you sold all of your corn you could make $50 to $100. To make any significant profit off of your corn you would need a large space to grow it. Keep in mind that this is garden level agriculture, we aren’t talking about big farming here. A farmer selling corn on acreage could expect to make around $1,500 per acre off of the corn. That isn’t pure profit either since there are expenses with seed and fertilization.

However there is a small market in the fall for corn stalks for home decor that the home gardener could capitalize on. You could sell the leftover stalks for around $2 to $5 for a bundle of stalks depending on what other people in your area are selling them for. Make sure you cut the stalks close to the ground then hang them somewhere until they have fully dried.

If you plant on dedicating some space in your garden to corn I recommend just enjoying your harvest. Dry it and save it for next years seed or grind it into corn meal, freeze it for overwinter use, or (best of all) cook it and eat your corn fresh from the garden!

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