How to Plant Corn: Cultivating Summer's Sweet Delight

Indulge in the freshness of sweet corn on your summer dining table by growing it in your own garden. Here's a comprehensive guide on how to plant this beloved vegetable.

Sweet corn, globally acclaimed and a favorite among home gardeners, captivates taste buds when harvested from one's backyard. Follow these step-by-step instructions for a successful corn crop.

Corn's shallow root system requires planting in a sunny but sheltered location to prevent wind damage, as strong gusts can flatten corn plants.

Soil Preparation:
Before sowing, it's crucial to enhance the soil quality. Begin by using a garden tiller to break up the planting area. If the soil is compacted, walk over it until adequately loosened. Add the first layer of compost topsoil and fertilizer, then spread it evenly using a rake.

Fertilizer Application:
Corn demands significant nitrogen, necessitating fertilizer before planting. Check soil temperature and add nitrogen-rich fertilizer for optimal corn growth. Opt for a 10-10-10 mix, meaning 10% each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Apply at a rate of 4 cups per 100 feet of planting rows. Use a light garden tiller (or garden fork) to work the fertilizer into the soil about 3 to 4 inches deep.

Pre-Soaking Seeds:
When the soil temperature reaches 60 to 95 degrees, sow sweet corn seeds in ample sunlight. To aid their germination, soak dry seeds overnight in room temperature water. This step is crucial, as sweet corn seeds may appear shrunken and wrinkled; pre-soaking helps them plump up before sprouting.

Additional Planting Tips:

In warmer climates, directly sow seeds in mid-May. Corn cobs should be ready for harvest in late August or September.
In cooler weather, sow seeds indoors in mid-April to early May, then transplant in late May to early June.
Transplanting Seedlings:
Initiate any transplanting in peat pots three weeks before anticipated sprouting. For indoor germination, sow two seeds in 3-inch peat pots, each about an inch deep. Maintain a gentle temperature of 55 to 59 degrees for successful germination. Once sprouted, use cool white fluorescent grow lights about 2 inches above the plants. Keep the lights on for 12 to 14 hours daily, adjusting as the plants grow.

Hardening Off Seedlings:
Before moving seedlings outdoors, acclimate them gradually to external conditions. Place the seedlings outdoors when daytime temperatures exceed 40 degrees, avoiding direct sunlight or strong winds. Keep them in a shaded area. Increase exposure gradually, moving them a bit more each day. After three to five days of hardening, once they are at least 2 inches tall, they can be transplanted outside.

Marking Rows:
Create rows by placing stakes equal to the bed's length, then stretch string along the ground to mark planting lines. Ensure 20 to 36 inches of cultivation space between rows, planting at least four rows for optimal pollination.

Forming Furrows in the Soil:
Using the edge of a hoe, draw a shallow furrow 1 to 2 inches deep along one side of the string. Remove stakes and string, placing identification markers at the furrow's end. Place corn seeds in the planting furrow, spacing them 4 to 5 inches apart. Plant two to three seeds to ensure robust germination. Use soil from the furrow's edge to rake 1.5 inches of soil over the corn seeds, covering them.

Watering and Protection:
After seeding, water the block-shaped rows. Adequate soil moisture is crucial for the optimal germination of super-sweet corn, requiring at least an inch of rain or irrigation water per week for normal growth.

Caring for Growing Plants:

As plants grow, they require specific care:
Mound soil around stems to support them against wind in exposed areas.
Thin seedlings when they reach 6 inches in height, leaving 8 to 10 inches between well-established plants.
Use scissors to thin out weaker seedlings, preserving the best in each location.
Side-dress plants with 10-10-10 fertilizer after thinning, lightly watering the fertilizer in.

Harvesting Corn:
Sweet corn is typically ready for harvest about 80 to 95 days after planting, depending on the variety. Each corn stalk should yield at least one large ear. Under favorable conditions, many varieties produce smaller second ears.

Harvest the first ear of corn when the silk extends about 1 to 2 inches beyond the ear tip. This usually occurs 20 to 24 days after silk emergence. Corn is ready when the kernels are plump, the tips blunt, and the husks tightly folded and green. Harvest when the silks wither, and the ear detaches easily at about a 30-degree angle.

Testing for Ripeness:
To test, puncture the kernel's tip with your thumbnail. It should release milky-white juice. If the liquid is clear and watery, the corn needs more time on the stalk.

Picking and Preparing Corn:
To harvest an ear, firmly grasp it, bend it downward, and twist it off with a twisting motion. Break the earstalk without breaking the main stem or tearing the entire husk off.

For the freshest and sweetest corn, immerse the cobs in ice-cold water immediately after picking, keeping them submerged until ready to eat. Consume, process, or refrigerate the ears as soon as possible to preserve their sweetness and freshness.