Growing sweet corn in the backyard garden

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 09:33 AM.

Sweet corn is a favorite among home gardeners.  As long as the space is available, it’s not difficult to grow.

Corn is a new world native crop, with archaeological evidence suggesting that it was first domesticated in Mexico.  This crop was the basis of the Mayan, Incan and Aztec civilizations, and by the time European explorers came to the New World in the 1500s, corn had become a staple for the native people.

Corn is monoecious (mon-ee-shuss) which means that there are both male and female flowers on each corn plant.  In some monoecious plants, male and female parts are in the same flower.  In corn, male and female flowers are in different locations, the male flowers form a tassel which is at the top of the plant.  The female flower is located at the junction of leaves and stem.  It consists of collection of hairs (silks) enclosed in the husks of what will become the ears.  There silks are pollen receiving tubes.  Wind-blown pollen from the mole flower (tassel) falls on the silks below.  Each silk leads to a kernel, and pollen must land on all silk for the ear to fill out completely with kernel.

Corn comes in a variety of colors and sugar contents.  Look for sugary enhanced varieties, with firm and sweet kernels, or the super sweet varieties, with tender and very sweet kernels.  Some varieties of white and yellow corn that perform well in Florida are Silver Queen (white), “How Sweet It Is” (white), “Sweet Ice” (white), “Merit” (yellow), “Kandy Korn” (yellow), and “Peaches and Cream” (bicolor).

Sweet corn thrives best in well-drained soils but will tolerate a wide range of soil types.  Optimum pH ranges from 6.0 to 6.5.

Till the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches using a spade, plow or rototiller.   Avoid tilling the soil while it is too wet because clodding may occur.

Sweet corn is a warm-season vegetable requiring soil temperature between 60-90 degrees F°.  Avoid planting seed in cool soils.   Wait until after the last average dates of the last killing frost before planting.  If planted too early, weak stands, stunted growth or frost-killed seedling may result.  The newer, sweeter varieties are even more sensitive to cool, wet soils any may not perform well in these conditions.

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