How To Grow Corn In Your Backyard {Guide}

how to grown corn in your backyard

Corn is something that most of us think of as a large-scale crop and expect to see growing in fields with hundreds — or at least dozens — of rows. But if you dream of harvesting ears of corn minutes before boiling or grilling it to perfection for you and your guests to enjoy, you can grow this tasty treat in your backyard garden. In fact, you can obtain a nice harvest from as little as about 15 square feet, which means you might already have the perfect raised garden bed or corner of your yard just waiting to be planted with a crop for this year.

When you choose to grow corn in your backyard vegetable garden, you can also enjoy the added benefit of a temporary privacy screen as the stalks climb to an average of about eight feet but up to about 15 feet, depending on the type of corn you grow, the climate in your area and just how hands on you are with caring for your crop.

How to Grow Corn in Small Spaces —

Here are eight steps to growing corn in a backyard vegetable garden.

1. Plan Your Space for Successful Pollination

The first step in successfully growing backyard corn is to plan the space you will dedicate to this crop. While it may be tempting to grow your corn in one long row along a fence or between other crops, you will find that this garden design will not bode well for your harvest.

Unlike most of the plants home gardeners grow for food, corn is not pollinated by bees, butterflies and other insects. At the top of the stalk, there is a tassel. Pollen comes from the center spike in this tassel and, hopefully, falls onto the silks. When this happens successfully, pollination occurs.

Corn relies on wind to assist in this pollination and most of the pollen actually pollinates silks on neighboring stalks rather than those on the same stalk. Because of this, it is critical that your corn is planted in rows or blocks, ideally with at least three rows of stalks. Since you will want to plant your stalks about one foot apart, you will need to create a block in an area that is at least three feet by five feet or four feet by four feet. Of course, you can plan out a larger space for a bigger crop of corn when harvest time comes around, but this is the minimum size you should dedicate for growing your corn.

It is best to choose a location that is in full sun or receives sun most of the day. Corn requires more water than a lot of the food-producing plants commonly found in backyard vegetable gardens, so you will want to keep this in mind if you design your garden to group plants with similar water needs.

Corn can be grown directly in the ground, in raised garden beds or in large containers that can be positioned to form a block or rows.

Because corn does not continue to produce after harvest, gardeners with enough space may want to plan for multiple blocks of corn planted a couple of weeks apart to ensure an ongoing crop.

2. Prepare Your Soil

Corn is a bit more nutrient hungry than other common vegetable garden plants. It also likes well-drained, acidic soil with a pH of around 6.0 but up to about 6.8. Tilling the top six to 10 inches of soil will help to loosen the earth and improve drainage, which you can improve more by amending the soil. You may want to do this anyways to add nutrients. Mixing in some compost from your local garden center or backyard compost bin is a good way to add nutrients to the soil while you prepare it for planting.

3. Plant the Seeds

Corn seeds should be placed about one foot apart, but many gardeners prefer to plant them closer together, and then thin the seedlings once they have grown to a few inches in height. Each seed should be placed between one inch and 1.5 inches into the ground and covered with soil. Immediately after planting your corn, water it enough to moisten the soil.

corn backyard

4. Watering Your Corn

Corn is not a drought-tolerant plant and requires regular irrigation. Germination takes about two weeks, and during this time you will need to water the area regularly to keep the soil moist. Once you have seedlings that are a few inches tall, you can move to a deep watering once a week or twice per week when it is particularly hot and dry.

5. Fertilize Your Crop

You will want to fertilize your corn crop at least once about six weeks to two months into its growth cycle. You will want to choose a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content for the best results.

6. Hand Pollinate Your Corn

If you plant our corn in blocks or rows that are at least three deep, you may have a successful crop without the help of hand pollination, but to hedge your bet and help your corn produce as much as possible, it is a good idea to assist in the pollination process. To do this, cut off a tassel from one of your stalks, and then lightly dust silks with the tassel to distribute the pollen. You will want to do this every morning for about a week to help ensure proper pollination.

7. Harvest Your Corn

Once the silks are mostly dry and brown, it is time to check your ears to see if they are ready to harvest. The easiest way to determine whether or not it is time to harvest your corn is to open the husk just enough to poke a kernel with your fingernail. The resulting liquid should be a bit like milky water. If it is more like clear water, then in it not yet time. If it is super milky, then it is actually past the ideal time for harvesting. In this case, the corn will likely taste starchier and not as sweet, but it is still edible.

8. Store Your Corn

If possible, harvest your corn just before you plan to use it in order to enjoy the freshest taste. If this is not possible, store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. If you have a particularly abundant harvest and have too much corn to use at once, you can blanch it and freeze it for future use. Alternatively, you may want to dry part of your corn to grind into corn meal.

drying corn

Your Turn…

Do you grow corn in your backyard garden? If so, we would love to hear your favorite tricks or tips for a bountiful harvest.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): morgueFile, Penywise; morgueFile, kconnors; morgueFile, mensatic