The crisp and delicious crunch of sweet corn is distinctly reminiscent of warm and lazy summer nights spent eating, grilling, and laughing with family and friends. Luckily, planting sweet corn is relatively simple, as long as you sow at the right time and give it all the nutrients and water it needs to thrive. It’s particularly effortless to grow this seasonal treat in Florida, which may be why they’re the number one state for production and value of fresh market sweet corn in the U.S.
Even gardening newbies should have no trouble producing ripe ears all summer long to be enjoyed freshly boiled and promptly slathered in butter and salt or even wrapped in tinfoil and thrown on the grill. Here are some tips on when and how you should plant your sweet corn if you live in the Sunshine State and how to get the best yield out of your crop.
What Season Should You Plant Sweet Corn?
Florida is one of the best locations for growing and has a well-suited climate for planting sweet corn. The yellow vegetable is easy to grow, but it’s sensitive to frost. From seed to harvest, you need at least 90-120 days with no frost, depending on the variety you choose. The best season to start spring planting is around the middle of April, although sweet corn is technically in season anywhere from October to June.
If you plant your sweet corn around April 15th, it will start to silk and tassel around the first week of June. This is around the general time when summer rains occur in Florida, giving your plants more of the life-giving water they need to grow. Add some mulch to keep the roots from drying out, and add starter fertilizer to give emerging seedlings a boost. The soil should be at least 60° for optimal seeding conditions.
How Should Sweet Corn Be Planted?
Sweet corn is best planted in an area at least 10 ft x 10 ft, in a 3 x 3 block at a minimum. If you don’t give your sweet corn enough space, it won’t pollinate or grow correctly, and you will have a poor harvest and stunted cornstalks. A general rule for planting sweet corn is the larger the plot, the better. It should be planted from seed directly in the ground since it doesn’t transplant very well.
Pick the Ideal Spot
Once you’ve got your seeds, till the soil thoroughly to make it easier to work with. Pick the perfect spot in the garden to give your cornstalks plenty of sunlight, nutrients, and space to flourish. Find a sunny patch that’s protected from the worst of the wind. Corn also needs lots of nitrogen, which translates to about 20 or 30 lbs of compost per 100 square feet of soil.
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How To Sow Sweet Corn Seeds
For the healthiest crop of sweet corn possible, plant your seeds about 7 to 15 inches apart in the soil. Though the best time to plant is mid-April, if you’re going to sow your seeds early, place them only about an inch down into the soil. If you want to start your crop in midsummer, you should be planting sweet corn seeds about two inches deep in the earth.
Since sweet corn grows rapidly and needs lots of space, plant the seeds in rows about five to six inches apart. Corn is wind-pollinated, so it’s recommended to form your rows into blocks at least three rows wide, which is the best for maximum pollination. Once healthy seedlings emerge, thin the smaller, weaker plants until the strong ones are about one foot apart.
Hand-Pollinating Your Sweet Corn Patch
Ensuring that your corn is properly pollinated is vital to increase your crop’s size and yield. You already know corn is wind-pollinated, which means the wind has to whisk the pollen off the tassels and get it onto the silks on the top of the ear. If you don’t have room for a three-by-three block and have to plant in a single or double row, you can improve pollination by doing the job yourself.
Watch closely for the silks to show themselves and for the tassels to open slightly, at which point the pollen is ready to be collected. Find a bucket and place it under the tassels. Shake the stalk gently to release the pollen, and then promptly transfer it into a paper bag. Now, you can carefully scatter it by hand onto all the other silks to ensure they’re adequately pollinated.
Keep Pests Out of Your Sweet Corn
There’s nothing worse than shucking corn and finding a squirming bug lurking underneath the husk and the whole top end of the corn mushy and ruined. However, there are some steps you can take to keep your corn safe from pests, such as corn earworms, corn borers, corn sap beetles, cinch bugs, and moths. Insecticides are a common and effective method, but there are also some organic options available.
One organic solution is to till the earth in your garden regularly and rotate your plants every season to improve nutrient absorption and prevent rootworms from taking up residence. Try placing a clothespin or rubber band at the top of the husk where the silk emerges to limit their access. Apply a few drops of mineral oil on the top of the ears before closing them off with the rubber band to suffocate any existing larvae.
When Does Sweet Corn Mature?
Once your patch has grown fat ears of corn, it’s critical to avoid harvesting them before they’re completely ripe. You should generally wait about 20 days after the first showing of silk. The silk should be brown at this point, but the husk should still be green. Each stalk should have one or two ears, but you should pick the bigger, more mature ears towards the top.
However, before you boil a pot of water or fire up the grill, check the corn you’re about to harvest to make sure it’s in the “milk stage.” To do this, break the skin on a kernel with your thumbnail. If the inside is a milky color, you’re all set. If it’s clear, it’s not ready to be picked just yet. If there’s no liquid at all—well, then you waited too long to harvest, and the crop is now inedible.
How To Harvest Your Sweet Corn
When removing the ear from the stalk, get a firm grip, pull it downwards, and then give it another twist and pull. If it’s mature, it should come off quickly and easily. After you’re done harvesting the ears, pull up the stalk entirely, cut it into pieces, and compost your heart out while you’re enjoying your hand-grown, farm-fresh sweet corn.
The crisp, satisfying crunch of sweet corn eaten plain or dripping with butter is one of the best parts of summer. This delicious yellow vegetable tastes even better when grown with your own two hands. Florida is the biggest producer of sweet corn in the country, and those who live there should have no problem supplementing their garden with a patch.
Start planting in mid-April and create a large block instead of long rows to increase pollination. Water your plants regularly and add fertilizer to boost the fresh seedlings. Sweet corn is fairly easy to grow, and anybody can produce beautiful, fat ears with a little hard work. It’s obvious why fresh sweet corn continues to be enjoyed at barbeques all over America, all summer long. Check out our other blog posts for some more great gardening tips.