Hard to grow corn, but still worth trying
I need to write about corn this week because I will be sowing a variety this summer that is new to me. After years of using Gotta Have It, my friend Carl recommended Serendipity and even gave me a generous supply, so it will be interesting to monitor progress.
Serenity is bi-color open pollinated treated seed, growing to 8 feet tall with 8-inch-long ears.
One thing I always do when sowing corn in the garden is to plant about a dozen seeds in individual peat pots, and keep them in a different place close to the house. Then, when the crows swoop down and help themselves to a few shoots, I just pop a pot into the empty space, and it will be at the same stage as the survivors. I don’t know why the crows do this; often they leave the pulled-out plant right there on the ground.
If you are short on garden space, corn is one of the least productive crops for the space it uses. I plant my corn much closer than recommended, but it still takes up a lot of space to produce a couple of ears on each plant. But to me, it is well worth it. There is absolutely no vegetable so delicious as an ear of corn straight into the pot from the garden.
When selecting corn, you have many choices with yellow, white or bi-colored readily available. Sweetness is indicated on the seed packet by genetic abbreviations. The normal is designated “su” and this contains moderate amounts of sugar and should be cooked as soon as possible after picking. Then comes the sugar-enhanced “se,” “se+” or “EH,” which has been modified for a slower conversion to starch, and then “sh2,” which is super-sweet and even slower to change.
Corn is monoecious, which means male and female flowers grow on each plant.
The male flowers form the tassel at the top of the plant. I remember my first summer in the U.S., never having seen corn grow before, watching the corn stalks grow as we drove around country roads and wondering just when those tassels would fatten into the ears I had seen in the grocery store.
When I finally asked my husband, this made a wonderful story for him to tell about his Limey wife!
Then, the female flowers grow as silks at the junction of leaf and stem and become enclosed in husks that will become the ears. Pollen from the tassels must fall on the silks to ensure the development of kernels. For this reason, corn in the home garden should be planted in blocks rather than rows to facilitate open pollination.
If you grow more than one variety, keep them as far away from one another as possible so the wind does not cross-pollinate.
I plant the seeds about 6 inches apart, in full sun. Corn likes good soil that can hold a fair amount of moisture. A dose of well-rotted manure and compost before planting encourages maximum growth. The tall stalks will cast shade on other vegetables growing nearby, and it is best to site your corn patch on the north side of the garden.
I have found my corn to be pretty resistant to pests or disease, with just the occasional appearance of ear worms. But they don’t eat much! A few times, I have been shocked to find an evil mass of corn smut, which is a rare but disgusting black fungus.
It is good to rotate the site from year to year in case of trouble lingering in the soil.
I hope all this advice and information is useful and accurate. I have plenty of farming friends who will not hesitate to correct me if necessary. Right, Carl?
Janet Del Turco is a local
gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
Contact her at