How to Grow Sweet Corn

Sweet corn, maize or corn-on-the-cob (Zea mays) is a cereal. It is a rather dramatic plant, growing up to 1.5m or more. The airy spikes of male flowers decorate the top of the plant, and the cobs, with their female flowers, form where the broad strap-like leaves join the main stem. They have an ornamental quality that makes them worth growing in the decorative kitchen garden.

Although maize has a long history, going back to prehistoric times, it is a relatively recent introduction to Europe. This is because it comes from Mexico and it was only after the Spanish Conquest in the early 16th century that it was brought to the Old World. In Europe the main varieties are yellow or yellow and white, but in the Americas, where it has had such a long tradition, there are many more varieties, often with quite deeply coloured seeds, including black.

Because of its size, sweet corn (corn) takes up a lot of space in the garden, but the superior taste of fresh sweet corn, compared with corn bought in the shops, which may be days old, makes it worth trying to find the space, even if it is only for a few plants. Sweet corn needs to be grown in a block rather than in rows, which increases the chances of pollen tailing from the higher male flowers onto the female-ones below. This may be inconvenient in terms of the shape of your vegetable garden, but it is worth making the effort to find room.

Sweet corn (corn) needs as long a growing season as possible, but it is, unfortu­nately, frost tender, so the plants have to be started off under glass and transferred to open ground only when there is no further danger of frost. Seed can be sown directly into the soil, but this may not give a long enough season in some regions. Seed often carries a powdery fungicide to stop it from rotting in wet soils.


Sweet com (corn) needs a warm, sunny position, sheltered from strong winds. The soil should be free draining and well prepared with rotted organic material. Sow the seeds in individual pots under glass in mid-spring, and germinate under gentle heat of I 3-1 5°C/ 55-59°F. Harden off the plants before planting out in early summer or whenever there is no likelihood of frost. Plant in a block and set 30cm apart.

Seed sown outside should be sown in late spring and protected by cloches. Sow two seeds together at 30cm intervals in a block rather than a row. After germination remove the weaker seedling.

Once established, growing plants should have earth drawn up around the stems for about 15cm/6in or more to support them against wind in exposed areas. Avoid deep hoeing – this can disturb the shallow roots.


Harvest sweet corn (com) when the tassels on the cobs begin to turn brown. Twist the cobs so that they snap off from the stem.


Sweet corn (corn) is best when cooked and eaten straight from the plant, although the cobs will keep a few days after they have been harvested. Cobs can also be frozen and then kept for winter use.

Pests and diseases

The main problem with sweet corn (corn) comes from mice and birds, which steal the seed. Frit fly and corn smut are the only other likely troubles, but fortunately they are not common.

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About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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