You can grow corn in a small garden.
Yes, you read that right!
The image of long rows of corn planted in corn fields of the Midwestern states is about to get updated, small-garden style!
Do you have a 5-foot by 10-foot area in your yard?
You can grow corn in this small space.
The Home & Family show vegetable garden is located in a busy urban area where I’m growing “Silver Queen” corn by Bonnie Plants in a 5-foot by 10-foot area.
HOW TO GROW CORN IN A SMALL GARDEN
Plant at the right time
The season to plant corn is in the springtime when the soil reaches temperatures of 60 degrees and above and the danger of frost is over.
Depending on where you live, you can plant as early as March or as late as June.
Planting corn seeds on a sunny day followed by a cold front or stormy weather can lead to rotting seeds.
There are hundreds of corn varieties that will be perfect for your short growing season.
Wait for consistently warm weather and your corn plants will reward you with enthusiastic growth!
Select the right location
Location, location, location is the motto for buying real estate and for planting corn!
The perfect site for planting corn should meet these standards:
- Full day sun- 8 hours is ideal
- Area open to breezes (which aids pollination), but protected from strong winds
- Well draining soil with plenty of access to water
Select seeds or corn plants
There’s an infinite variety of sweet corn available to us these days.
Buy corn seeds if you want to explore interesting varieties like “Rainbow Sweet Inca” or the classic “Stowell’s Evergreen” corn available at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
You can even find specialty corn seed for popcorn, broom corn and ornamental corn for decorating and crafting.
Packets are labeled as Early, Mid, or Late season corn so you can stagger your harvest and grow corn through the summer.
Seed classification includes Standard, Sugary Extender, Super Sweet, Synergistic and Augmented Super Sweet, which define the sugar and starch content of a specific plant.
Whatever you do, don’t mix corn varieties in your small garden bed as they can cross-pollinate and re-flavor your corn!
You’ll end up with a bizarre variety of corn.
I planted corn plants by Bonnie instead of seeds.
We do have a long growing season in Southern California but our production for the Home & Family show breaks during August and September and I need a head start with my crop.
If you need a head start, purchase plants.
There are quite a few varieties available and the ones you find at your local garden center have been selected to thrive in your area.
Best of all, these plants have already successfully germinated, sprouted and are in growth mode.
Does this sound exciting to you?
Buy corn plants!
Prepare your soil
Now that you have your seed or corn plants on hand, it’s time to get your garden bed ready and in prime condition for your corn crops’ special needs.
Before setting out plants, amend your soil with compost and a balanced, organic, time-released fertilizer rich in nitrogen.
I added 10 pounds of Gardner & Bloome compost to my 50 square feet of gardening space and mixed it into the top 6 inches of soil.
I like Jobe’s Blood Meal, an organic source of nitrogen.
If you use a conventional (non-organic fertilizer), you will need a pound of 16-16-8 fertilizer for every 50 square feet of gardening space, mixed into the top 6 inches of soil.
You can also use a 10-10-10 formula.
A steady nitrogen source is vital to corn growth.
Nitrogen is taken up by the corn plant at the root level and goes through a process that converts it to amino acids that help the plant produce more sugar.
If nitrogen is not provided, the plant will tap into its own source of nitrogen, found in the leaves, and “cannibalize” itself, leading to yellowing of lower leaves on the stalk.
This is a sign of nitrogen deficiency called firing.
You don’t want to see firing, so supply nitrogen at planting time, when your corn grows to 6 inches, and then again when the tassels emerge on top of the plant.
These are critical times for nitrogen uptake.
More information about fertilizing corn here.
Space Your Corn Plants According to Square Foot Method
Square Foot Gardening is a planting technique originated by Mel Bartholomew, an engineer who wanted to maximize planting in small spaces.
According to his rule, you can grow a singe large crop such as a corn plant, tomato or squash in a one-square-foot area.
Square Foot Gardening is incredibly successful.
Here’s how I applied the formula for my corn plant:
I planted 4 rows of corn, spaced 12 inches apart and within each row, I spaced plants 8 inches apart horizontally.
This layout creates a “block” of corn instead of a long row of corn which is difficult to pollinate.
When mature, the corn stalks will be anywhere from 7 feet to 14 feet tall and stand shoulder to shoulder.
Water your corn plant…a lot!
Corn requires one inch of water per week and more during a heat wave.
Drip irrigation or a soaker hose can be a time saver, but it’s fun to water your corn by hand and observe the amazing growth it has every day.
Two thorough watering sessions per week is usually sufficient.
Don’t be lazy.
You want JUICY corn kernels, right?
AMAZING CORN POLLINATION
I’m in awe of how God designed corn to reproduce by supplying each plant with both female and male sexual traits.
The corn tassels, found high at the apex of the corn, carries within its flower pods the pollen which fertilizes the corn cob.
Ears of corn (the female part of plant) grow from nodes found along the corn stalk, and emerge at the same time the tassels form.
Silky filaments or strands (the corn silk) run the length of an ear of corn.
These strings are directly attached to individuals kernels of corn, protected on the cob by the husks.
In order to pollinate the ear of corn, pollen must fall from the tassels above to the corn silk strands below and fertilize EACH strand.
EACH STRAND represents ONE kernel of corn!
And you thought those corn strands were an annoying nuisance!
Have you ever husked a corn and found missing kernels?
The corn silk attached to that specific kernel was not pollinated!
That’s a heck of a lot of detail work.
Each corn plant can produce 1- 3 cobs of corn and then it dies back.
This is why it’s important to plant corn every 2 weeks if you want to extend your harvest through the summer.
Most people can get three cycles of corn plants if they have a long growing season.
By the way, corn silk has been used for hundreds of years medicinally as a diuretic tea and topically to help heal wounds.
The corn silk is supremely nutritious, housing a large supply of potassium.
Aw-MAIZE-ing plant, don’t you think?
Do you have a new-found appreciation for corn silk?
Shirley Bovshow, the Foodie Gardener and edible garden designer on the set of Home & Family with Phil Keoghan, host of “Amazing Race,” Tanya Memme, Cristina Ferrare and Mark Steienes.
Do you have any questions for the Foodie Gardener?
I’m here for you.
Let’s grow food with style!