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How to grow sweet corn

Have you ever had trouble harvesting a great crop of corn? Healthy plants, but poor quality cobs? It probably is being caused by poor pollination. This is often observed in apparently healthy corn cobs that have few well formed kernels. How to grow corn that form cobs loaded with juicy kernels is the focus of this article.

Sweet corn is a plant that belongs to the same plant group as grasses and sugar cane - the monocots. As a monocot, it relies on the wind for pollination. Bees or other insects are not involved. This means that you must plant your corn plants in a way that ensures good pollination through the air.

sweet corn

Sowing Seeds Directly into the Ground

This is how most people grow corn. However, ensure that your seeds are reasonably "new" and well within their use-by date. This will ensure a good germination rate resulting in plants not being too far apart, thus enabling good pollination. 

Sow your seeds about 1.5mm to 2.0mm deep and 30cm apart in several rows that are also 30cm apart. Do not sow corn in a single row - this minimises the likelihood of good pollination.

Sowing Seeds in Punnets

This is my preferred method because it ensures that only viable seedlings are transplanted into the the ground. Once again, the importance of this is linked directly to successful pollination when the plants are mature. I have been caught in the past when I have sown seeds directly into the ground and had poor germination rates resulting in plants widely spaced apart - this has then affected pollination and the quality of the harvested corn cobs.

How to grow Sweet Corn - Requirements

Sunshine

Sweet corn definitely prefers full sun. So when sowing your seeds or planting your seedlings, ensure that you have selected a locations that receives full sun throughout the day.

Water

Sweet corn can be quite thirsty and should not be aloud to dry out. If the soil is dry, it is possible that the plants will look healthy, but the quality of the cob and its kernels will be low. You should ensure that the soil the sweet corn is growing in remain moist - it should receive about 25mm of rain or the equivalent from watering each week.

Fertiliser

Lots of Phosphorus, Potassium and Nitrogen (PKN) are required in order to grow healthy, high quality sweet corn. Well composted and mulched soil combined with the addition of aged poultry manure well help ensure that the necessary nutrients are available for the healthy growth of your corn plants. Add the poultry manure 2 or 4 times during the growing season of the plant.

Harvesting

The sweet corn will be ready to harvest when you notice that the silks have turned brown and have a dry texture to them.

sweet corn ready to harvest

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About the author: Steve McLean

I am an educator and passionate gardener and traveler. Throughout my adult life, gardening has been my passion, therapy, drive and source of purpose. Even as a child I had an intrinsic interest in plants and a desire to understand what makes them grow.

I distinctly remember the moment this began - my family was on one of our regular road trips from Hervey Bay; Australia. We were driving past a field of sugar cane. Dad pulled the car over and we cut a couple of sugar cane stems and brought them home for a treat. To be honest, I didn’t really like the taste, but I did want to try and grow it; and that is exactly what I did. It was then that my fascination, interest and passion for gardening and understanding plants began.

Fast forward a few years and I studied biological sciences and began what would be a 36 year career as a Biology educator. From this, I don’t only love gardening, but I also love helping others learn about gardening. I am also always looking for new ways to develop my own gardening knowledge. I like to think I am truly a life-long learner.

Fundamental to my beliefs about education is that learning is often best done as a part of a community - learning from others, and helping others to learn. It is this type of community that I hope iCultivate will be for its members - a community of gardeners, keen to share their gardening knowledge and wanting to learn about new ways to garden - a community built on the love of gardening.

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