Greg Bowman

One childhood memory I have is the days of putting up corn on the family farm. One benefit of having a family that either lives close or on the family farm is that you can have extra hands on work days. When the corn in the family garden was ready it was all hands on deck. My Granny would handle the kitchen and then Pop would manage the outside crew. I remember shucking and removing silk from what seemed like mountains of corn. It was hard work, but it was rewarding work. Plus, when you enjoyed that homegrown sweet corn at dinners the work was worth it. Today, I will try to cover many home garden sweet corn topics as space allows. I will be using a publication by Robert Westerfield, UGA Extension Horticulturist.

This article is not going to tell you one variety is better than another. I say this all the time, but corn can simply go back to preference. The Bowman gang always grows Silver Queen due to family tradition.

Your family may like something else. You do need to keep in mind that sweet corn can be divided into three distinct types based on genetic background according to Westerfield. Those types are normal sugary, sugary enhanced and supersweet. There are varieties that contain a combination of either two or all three of these genes that exhibit qualities of each. Supersweet corn plants should be isolated from other types of corn tasseling at the same time in order to keep their level of sweetness and tenderness. Their pollen is weak and can be supplanted by other corn types. This can result in the corn kernel to be more like a field corn. Note that corn is wind pollinated so the isolation distance needs to be 500 feet or more, especially downwind, according to Westfield.

Corn plants can be productive in a wide range of soil types, but sweet corn will do best in a loamy, well-drained soil. You need to try to keep the soil pH in the 6.0-6.5 range. Prior to planting, you need to till the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches. Do not till wet soil.

Planting time is when the soil temperatures are in the 60-90 degrees F range. You need to wait at least wait two weeks after the last average killing frost before planting sweet corn. Refrain from planting corn too early in cool and damp soils. Corn planted too early in the home garden can be stunted and killed by frost. It is stated that the newer, sweeter varieties are even more sensitive to the cool and damp soils. If you wait until the soil temperatures are in a proper range, you will have better results.

When picking the garden spot, make sure it can provide 8-10 hours of sunlight for corn production. Also, if picking the spot for the first time, it is better to plant near a source of water if you need to irrigate.

When planting, plant seed approximately 1-inch deep in rows that are 3 feet apart with 8-12 inches between each seed in the row. Remember that corn is wind pollinated. Some issues with poor pollination may be traced to how we lay out the rows in the first place. You are better off if you plant four or more short rows of sweet corn side by side instead of one long corn row. Shorter and more corn rows can lead to better pollination and ear development on the stalk.

Remember, I mentioned earlier on planting the supersweet and even multi-gene varieties a great distance away from the standard varieties to keep the corn the same. If you don’t have the space to do this, you can try planting them at different times so maturity dates are one month apart to avoid cross pollination per Westerfield.

As far as proper fertilization, you really need to do a soil test to match liming or fertilizing to the needs of your garden soil that will be growing the sweet corn. If the pH is low, lime can be better utilized if applied 2-3 months prior to planting. If you do not soil test, a general recommendation for sweet corn is to apply six pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 linear row feet prior to planting.

You can sidedress the corn two to three times during the growing season with ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) at the rate of 1 pound per 100 feet of row. Note, you may have to sidedress more on sandy ground or when you get a lot of rain. Sidedressing is when you dig a shallow trench on one side of the row near the corn plant, apply the fertilizer and then cover the trench with soil.

Also, water is very important for corn success. Sweet corn will need 1-inch of water per week. Water is very important during pollination and final ear filling. Soaker hoses or so sort of drip irrigation to wet the soil to a depth of 6 inches is best. You want to try to keep corn foliage dry.

For more information, contact UGA Extension- Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email gbowman@uga.edu.