Monday, May 20, 2013

How to Grow Corn in the North

Corn is a staple in the U.S. and around the world. For home gardeners, it can be eaten fresh, frozen or canned for later use. The keys to successfully growing corn in the north are to plant an early variety and wait until the weather is warm to sow it to help stave off certain pests and diseases.

Vegetable Type: Annual
Name: Zea mays
Family: Grass

Starting Corn Seeds in the North

When to Plant: After all danger of frost has passed and soil temps are at least 60°F
Soil Type: Fertile, well-draining
Spacing: Sow seeds 1.5" deep and 5" apart in rows 24" apart
Thinning: Thin to 10" apart after seedlings reach 2-3" tall
Light: Full sun
Fertilization: Amend soil with finished compost or composted manure for added nutrients
Watering: Keep well watered especially during dry periods to prevent stunted growth
Mulching: Mulch to prevent weeds and retain moisture
Average Days to Germination: 6-10 days
Additional Care: Plant several short rows rather than 1 or 2 for better pollination. Also, planting corn in cold temperatures can result in poor germination

Common Corn Pests and Diseases


Corn Earworms: 1-2” worms are light green to brown in color, hatching from moth eggs. They feed on silk and kernels. Lightly spray tips of ears with organic mineral oil to prevent infestation.

European Corn Borer: Moths lay eggs on undersides of leaves. Hatched larvae borrow into ears and stalks where they feed. If broken tassels & bent stalks appear, spray with organic pesticide, closely following directions.

Corn Root Aphids: Tiny and light green in color. Aphids feed on plant roots often resulting in stunted growth and yellowing of stalks. Prevent by clearing the garden of all ant nests to stop aphids from over wintering in them.

Wireworms: .5 - 1.5” inches long and yellowish-brown larvae. Wireworms feed on the plant roots causing damage. To prevent these pests, cultivate the soil throughout the growing season and rotate crops each year.

Seed Corn Maggots: .5” long cream-colored larvae bore into sprouted seeds stopping their growth. Prevent by planting corn in warmer weather.

* Of course some animals such as raccoon and deer are attracted to corn as well. There are many deterrents on the market to stave off 4-legged pests. Try hanging mesh bags filled with human or dog hair to scare away these pests as a cheap alternative to store bought deterrents.


Stewart’s Bacteria Wilt: Causes early development of tassels, reduced pollination and stunted or wilted plants. Prevent by planting disease resistant varieties of corn, rotating crops and clearing the garden of all plant debris in fall.

Root Rot: Corn plants are stunted or severely misshapen. Commonly causes roots to rot. Caused by fungi. Prevent by planting corn in well-drained soil and in warm weather.

Northern Corn Leaf Blight: Caused by a fungus. Long, gray, green or tan spots appear on leaves of plants. Spots can spread. Loss of corn may result in humid areas from leaf blight. Prevent by planting resistant varieties and rotating crops.

Pest and disease source:

How to Harvest Corn

  • Twist and pull ears of corn from stalks when kernels have filled out 
  • Test the kernels by piercing with a thumb nail. Corn should be harvested when a milky-white substance is produced

Types of Corn

When leafing through the seed catalog, you’ll come across abbreviations in the corn descriptions. I have listed each abbreviation, what it stands for and what it means. Abbreviations are included  in each description of corn I have listed as well.

(se) - Sugary-Enhanced Hybrids: Contains high levels of sugar between 14-35% depending on the variety. Known for its creamy texture, taste and tenderness.

(su) - Normal or High Sugar Hybrids: Contains 9-16% sugar depending on the variety. Known for its full flavor and firm, creamy texture.

(sh2) Super Sweet Hybrids: Contains very high sugar levels between 28-44% depending on the variety. Known for its super-sweet flavor and crisp texture.

Synergistic: A cross between (se) and (sh2) varieties containing 75% (se) kernels and 25% (sh2) kernels. Known for its tenderness and sweet flavor.

  • Varieties of corn come in 3 colors: yellow, white and bicolor. To simplify this post, I have listed varieties by color. 

Varieties of Corn

Yellow Varieties of Corn

Early Sunglow Hybrid (se): Early variety. Ears grow 6-7” with meaty kernels on short stalks. 62 days.

Legend Hybrid (se): Early variety. Ears grow 7-9” with plump, creamy-sweet kernels. Disease resistant and cold hardy making it a great choice for the north. 65 days.

Spring Treat (se): Yellow sweet variety. Easy harvesting. 66 days.

Precocious Hybrid (se): Early variety. Grows full-tipped ears on 5’ stalks. Sweet to taste. Adapts well. 66 days.

Northern Xtra-Sweet (sh2): Early, tender variety. A northern favorite because it germinates well in cold soils. Large ears are sweet in flavor. Comes in yellow, white and bicolor varieties. 67 days.

Sugar Buns (se): Kernels are deep and narrow. Variety holds up well in the garden. 70 days.

Bicolor Varieties of Corn

Native Gem Hybrid (se): Early variety. Ears grow an average of 8” with full rows of kernels. Very sweet. 66 days.

Trinity (se): Very sweet variety with crisp, fine kernels and narrow ears. Does well when planted in cool weather making it great for the north. 68 days.

Quickie (se): Tender, sweet variety. Ears average 7". Does well in cold soil making it great for the north. 68 days.

Pay Dirt (synergistic): Very sweet variety with tender kernels. Ears grow 7.5-8" long. Tolerates rust. 69 days.

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How to Make Your Own Seed Tapes

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