Growing corn in pot

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PHOTO: Jessica Walliserby Jessica Walliser January 12, 2017

I’ve been a container gardener for years, growing everything from annuals and perennials to veggies and small fruits in pots of every shape and size, but one thing I’ve never been able to grow in a pot is sweet corn.

Corn is wind-pollinated, and in order for there to be enough pollen in the air to fully pollinate the ears, you need to have many corn plants in tight quarters. Plus, corn plants grow very tall and look awkward in containers. My every attempt to grow corn in containers resulted in plants that were way too tall for their pots and half-formed ears (if any formed at all).

This year is going to be different. And it’s all because of a variety of corn that’s been bred specifically for growing in containers. (You can probably hear me cheering all the way over here in Pennsylvania!)

The Container Corn

Burpee Seeds carries a hybrid sweet corn called On Deck that’s made for container gardeners and those with small gardens. I saw it growing in half-whiskey barrels in a rooftop garden last summer when I was on a local garden tour. When I asked the garden owner about their experience, she said they had very good luck growing On Deck the previous year.

Each stalk produced two or three ears and grew between 4 and 5 feet tall. She said she did help with pollination by brushing a paintbrush against the tassels and then shaking it over the silks every morning for a week or so as soon as the tassels started shedding pollen. However, others don’t go through that effort and the plants still develop full 7-inch-long ears.

This Year’s Garden Experiment

It will be exciting to grow On Deck corn on my patio this summer. I’m already planning a little experiment. I’m going to grow some corn plants in a large, 60-gallon, fabric grow bag, and I’m going to grow another batch in a big plastic tub to see if one container works better than the other.

Growing Your Corn

Regardless of what type of container you choose, one thing I do know about growing corn is that you don’t want to plant it too early. Wait until the in-ground soil temperature reaches at least 55 degrees F and the nighttime air temperature is consistently warm before sowing the seeds. If you plant the seeds before then, the seeds may rot, even when they’re planted in a container, or the plants may fail to thrive.

Corn also loves full sun, so pick a spot that receives at least eight hours of full sun per day. Burpee suggests planting nine seeds per 24-inch-diameter container, so my pots will each house between 15 and 18 plants. Expect the corn to be ready to harvest in 60 to 65 days, a good three to four weeks before full-sized sweet corn is ready to pick.

I’ll report back later this summer with the results of my experiment. Have you ever grown sweet corn in containers? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Growing corn can be immensely satisfying. Whether you choose old-fashioned varieties, or something fun like popcorn, there’s nothing quite like watching it mature. But did you know that it also grows well in pots? In fact, growing corn in containers is an ideal solution for patios and smaller gardens.

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When you think of corn, do you see wide open fields, waving in the winds of Ohio, or Iowa? I know I do. I envision acres of green and gold corn growing tall in the setting sun. That’s basically the ideal environment for growing this fabulous crop. But I don’t have wide open fields, nor rolling acres to plant with corn, do you?

I have an acre of woodland garden, and many gardeners have much less space. With patios and back decks instead of a back 40, can we grow corn without dedicating acres to it? Can we put out a few pots of corn on the patio and still have a successful, small corn harvest?

Yes! It’s absolutely possible to grow corn in pots. It isn’t easy, and container corn yields are significantly smaller and less satisfying. In addition, growing corn in containers can be really challenging. Container corn requires more attention, more work, and more planning—but, it can be done.

Do you want to know how? Whether you’re growing corn for late summer barbecues or autumn decorations, read on. It takes effort, but there is a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from harvesting your own ears of homegrown corn.

Pick Your Pots

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Picking corn-growing containers can be a challenge!

This crop really doesn’t want to be grown in a container, as it prefers open fields. As a result, when you’re choosing a pot for your corn, try to make that pot as welcoming as possible.

Corn containers should have good drainage, width, depth, and stability. We definitely don’t want a flimsy corn pot tipping over as the plants grow tall. Make sure your corn has the space, nutrients, and drainage necessary to grow well. When you’re shopping, keep in mind that a large terracotta pot or whiskey barrel planter is ideal.

Sharing Space

Corn is a social plant too. It needs close friends to grow well, and to help it produce healthy corn cobs. In fact, if you can get your hands on an extra-large pot, consider a “three sisters” container garden for ultimate health and yields.

This crop is air pollinated, which means that when the wind blows, pollen from one plant fertilizes those that are nearby. This also means that to grow well, corn needs to grow close together.

When you’re picking your pots, choose one that will accommodate at least 4 corn plants. A round pot measuring about a foot in diameter and about a foot deep will be perfect for 4 plants. For 6 plants, try a 18-20” diameter pot, a foot deep. Large, whiskey-barrel planters can often hold 8-10 plants.

Location

Since pots this size aren’t likely to be moveable, find a very sunny spot to set them up. Corn plants crave sunlight: think of those rolling hills full of corn—no shade there! Find a spot in your garden or patio that gets full sunlight and dedicate that spot to corn.

You can use your corn plants as a privacy wall throughout the summer as well. Corn grows tall quickly, even in pots. If you plant in May, your corn will be screening you from view by midsummer. Corn in pots rarely grows to the full height of field corn (12-15 feet), but it will reach 6-8 feet easily.

Filling the Pot

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Corn is what’s called a “heavy feeder.” It’s a greedy plant that soaks up all the nutrients it can find. Farmers often find that growing corn will destroy their soil if they don’t take care to replenish the earth.

When you’re growing corn in containers, you don’t have to worry about draining your garden soil. But, you do have to mix up some rich soil and continue to feed your plants throughout the season.

Start with a fine, loamy potting mix. This mixture should have all the trace nutrients your corn needs. But since corn feeds heavily on nitrogen and phosphorous, you’ll want to boost those before planting.

Boosting the Soil

Mixing in some healthy compost, like well composted chicken manure, grass clippings, and fish emulsion is a great way to boost your potting soil before planting.

Try adding a gallon scoop of compost for a 1 foot diameter pot. Mix the compost well with the potting soil. This will give your young corn plants all the nutrients they need to get started growing.

Varieties of Corn for Container Growing

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Not every variety of corn will grow well in containers. Be picky. Seek out a variety that will succeed in small spaces. There are a few great options though. Let’s take a look at them.

Short-Stemmed Varieties

Shorter varieties of corn do much better in pots than their larger cousins. These compact options, like Trinity and Sweet Painted Mountain corns requires less space, fewer nutrients, and are bred for tighter locations.

Choosing a short-stemmed variety will give your container corn a much better chance at success. You corn will be less likely to end up stunted and under-nourished too. While short-stemmed corn still requires a lot of attention as a container crop, it is a forgiving option for the patio grower.

Container Varieties

A few seed companies are offering specialized, container corn seeds. These varieties have been bred specifically for pots. From Burpee’s On Deck to Gurney’s Utopia varieties, these corn plants are designed with containers in mind.

Unfortunately, the varieties of corn bred specifically for containers are often not compatible with organic or natural gardening. All of Gurney’s corn seeds are treated with pesticides and fungicides, so if you are planning to grow safe, sustainable corn plants, look elsewhere. Burpee’s On Deck seeds are still GMO free and, while not organic, do not seem to be treated.

Choose varieties you trust that are compatible with container gardening, even if they aren’t specifically bred for it. (Check out popcorn varieties too!)

Planting and Caring for Your Corn

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Now it’s time to plant!

Plant seeds about 6” apart along the outer circle of your pot. Keep them about 3-4 inches from the edge of the pot as well. Corn should be planted about an inch deep in soil. Now, water your seeds well and let the sun do the rest. Corn will germinate in about 10-14 days in cool weather (55-60 degrees) It can germinate in as little as 6 days in warm weather (65 degrees or more).

Water
Keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Corn needs consistent water to thrive. Growing corn in containers especially requires great drainage, and plenty of water.

To keep your corn plants from drying out, try mulching with wood chips to hold in moisture. You should be watering the corn pots every other day. In very hot, dry weather and at the time of fruiting, water daily.

Nutrients
Feed your corn plants about 9 weeks after germination. A good fish emulsion is a fantastic option, but any plant food with a 5-10-10 or 10-20-20 make up is going to be just fine. Incorporate the nutrients into the soil well, if using a dry fertilizer. Try to keep the plant food from touching the plant directly as well, to prevent any burning.

Harvest

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Harvest your corn between 60 and 100 days after planting. Most container-friendly varieties are harvested somewhere around 70 days. Most sweet corn varieties don’t produce more than two ears of corn per plant. When growing in containers, your yield may be less: one ear per plant at best.

The harvest from container corn can be disappointing. The best way to overcome the odds and have a bountiful harvest is by choosing container-friendly varieties and showering them with attention. Plant a few containers of 4-6 stalks each and set them close together to encourage high pollination rates.

After a summer of hard work and dedicated attention, you’ll know your corn is ready to pick when it’s completely filled out. Feel the tip of the ear, if it’s pointed, the corn needs more time. If the tip is rounded or blunt, and the silks are dry, the ears are ready.

So, Is it Worth It?

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That’s up to you to decide. Corn is always going to have a relatively low yield per plant. If you’d be disappointed with only two ears of corn from a garden-grown plant, then container corn is definitely not for you.

On the other hand, if you enjoy seeing those towering, green stalks along the sunny side of your patio it could be great. Maybe you’d be thrilled with the 6-8 ears of corn you can harvest off of 8 plants; or if you’re mainly growing corn stalks for their autumn ambiance. If so, then go for it.

For the right person, container corn is a joy. Give it a try. Plant a wall of corn, step out onto your patio, and imagine you’re in your own Iowa corn field. Sounds like fun to me!

Container Garden Design – Planting

Learn how many plants are needed for a container garden and how to place those plants for maximum effect.

One of the more perplexing things for people new to container gardening is how many plants should I include and where should they be placed in the container? The reality is that plants are flexible and there is no “right” answer. There are, however, guidelines that can help you decide how many plants you want to use and where to place them.

Living Flower Arrangement vs Traditional

There are two basic ways to plant a combination. The “living flower arrangement” and the traditional planting. The living flower arrangement is when you place as many plants as possible into each planter. This allows the planter to look full immediately after planting. However, since living flower arrangements are crowded they tend not to have as much longevity and often have greater disease problems than traditional plantings. Living flower arrangements can be really useful if you need to have a high impact container immediately, say for a party the same weekend you are planting the container.

Traditional planting is when you allow enough room between plants that the planter looks full after 2 to 3 weeks of additional growth. Generally I would use 3 or maybe 4 plants in 10 or 12-inch planters, 4 to 6 plants in a 14 to 16-inch planter and Six to 8 plants in an 16 to 20-inch planter and so on. With the traditional planting, you need to have a bit of patience to get a completely full planter. However, the plants will be healthier because of better root growth. Less crowded containers also have better air flow around the plants helping foliage dry faster which will decrease disease pressure.

Considerations

While these numbers are a great starting point to figuring out how many plants you need for your container there are some additional things to consider. The number of plants you use can be adjusted up or down by considering the vigor and final size of the plants. For instance, Supertunia® Petunias tend to spread and are quite vigorous, so I would use only 3 plants in even a 14-inch container if I was planting them. They will quickly grow and fill out the entire planter, although, I do sometimes give them a light trim as I’m planting them to encourge even more branching.

An even more extreme example would be planting Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum or Supertunia® Vista Silverberry. I have 18 to 20-inch upright containers that I plant every year. I have, on more than one occasion, used one of the Supertunia® Vistas in these large planters. Since these plants are VERY vigorous, I only use 3 plants in even these large planters. Here is an example of Supertunia® Vista Silverberry from my deck in the summer of 2008. The container was planted with the 3 plants in May. The photo on the left was taken July 2nd and the photo on the right was taken September 2nd. Those 3 plants quickly filled the container and it performed like a champ; well into October.

On the other hand, plants that are more compact and have an upright nature may take more than the recommended number to make the planter seem full. Pansies are an example of a rather compact, upright, slower-growing plant. Pansies are fantastic for cool season color. However, they tend to be relatively small plants and are primarily grown when the weather is cool which means they grow more slowly. When I plant pansies in pots, I tend to use a lot more than the recommended number of plants I gave above. The photo below was taken at the end of October and the container was planted at the end of September. This is a 12-inch container and it has 8 plants in it. The planter is full without being overly crowded. It had rained for 3 days prior to taking this photo so the plants are looking a bit forlorn.

Size Does Matter

Beyond considering how large a plant will get and how vigorously it grows you also need to consider the size of the plants you are using in your containers. If you are starting from 4 or 6-packs of plants, you will use more plants than if you are starting with 4-inch pots of plants. If you use gallon-sized plants, you will need even fewer plants. For the container recipes on our website, unless otherwise noted, we are using plants in 4-inch pots.

The two photos above are planted from different sizes. The Supertunia® Vista Silverberry is three 4-inch plants in an 18 to 20-inch planter. The pansies are eight 6-pack sized plants in a 12-inch planter. More than likely you will be using mostly 4-inch or plants in packs for your containers.

Often spacing is included on plant tags. This spacing refers to the preferred spacing for in-ground plantings. However, you can use this spacing information as one way of estimating final size and vigor. Plants that have a smaller spacing recommendation are generally going to be smaller and less vigorous. Those with a larger spacing recommendation are generally going to be larger and more vigorous plants.

Plant Placement

Now that you’ve determined how many plants to use in your container it is time to start placing them in the planter. It is always best to leave some space between the top of the soil and the edge of the pot. In small containers half an inch is good, but for larger containers you should leave an inch or maybe even two. This is called headspace and it helps to keep soil from washing out of the container and it helps channel water into the container. Without headspace water would simply run off of the container. Adequate headspace makes watering much easier.

Once you’ve added potting soil, it is time to start arranging the plants within the planter. It is best to leave an inch or two between the edge of the pot and the edge of the soil from the plants. This will give the plant room to root-out in all directions. From there you simply want to arrange the plants so each plant has some room and the whole planter will be filled.

Generally, if you are using 3 plants in a semi-circular container, you would plant one in the middle at the front of the container and the two off-set to either side at the back of the container (below, left). For a round or square container, you will plant them in an equilateral triangle within the container (below, middle) and if it is an oblong or rectangular container you will likely plant them in a row (below, right),

If you are using 4 plants in a semi-circular planter, you would likely put 3 along the back with one in the middle front (below, left). For 4 plants in a round or square planter, you are most likely to either put them in a square formation or to put them in an equilateral triangle and then place one plant in the center (middle photos below). For a rectangular planter, 4 plants would work best with two along the front and two along the back in a checkerboard pattern (below, right).

For 5 plants in a semi-circular planter, you will most likely put one plant in the front, two plants in the middle on either side of the first plant, and the last two plants at the back of the planter close to each side (below, left). For 5 plants in a circular or square planter, you are likely to put 4 of the plants in a square with the 5th plant in the middle (below, center). With a rectangular planter, 5 plants would be a checkerboard with 3 plants along the front and 2 along the back of the planter (photo, right).

Once you get above 5 plants in a round or square container, you will probably want to plant at least 3 towards the outside, more or less equally spaced out. Place one in the center and then place the rest between the outer plants and the center plant. In rectangular planters the checkerboard pattern we use for 5 plants is a pretty good way to go. For a semi-circular shape, I would place one to two plants at the front and then fill in behind that with the rest.

If you are planting a mono-crop (all one plant), you can simply put one plant in each spot. If you are planting a combination planter (several different plants), you need to pay attention to color, texture, habit and height.

As you are planting, try and spread the plants somewhat evenly throughout the planting area of the container while leaving some space between the edge of the container and the root ball of the plants. If you do that, your planters will look great.

This is one article in a series of four on container garden design. You can access the other three articles here:

Container Garden Design – Color

Container Garden Design – Structure

Container Garden Design – Foliage and Texture

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Growing Corn in Small Spaces

There’s nothing better than eating fresh sweet corn harvested from your own garden, boiled up within minutes of picking. The combination of the sweetness and corn flavor makes this vegetable the quintessential summer treat. But sweet corn has a reputation of being a space hog. When we think of growing sweet corn, most of us think of vast fields of plants. The impression is that sweet corn needs lots of room to grow. But you can grow sweet corn in a small backyard garden, a raised bed, or even a container. It’s just a matter of selecting the right varieties, having fertile soil, and making sure the corn gets pollinated properly.

Here’s how to grow sweet corn in a small space in your yard.

Sweet Corn Varieties

There are several types of sweet corn and many varieties to choose from. Heirloom sweet corn varieties have an old-fashioned corn flavor but lose their sweetness quickly after harvest. Newer sugar-enhanced and supersweet varieties have a good combination of sweetness and corn flavor, and they hold their sweetness longer after harvest. However, they can be more finicky about their growing conditions.

The key to growing sweet corn in a small space is to grow blocks of the same variety close together. You can start with shorter varieties that mature early and then experiment with taller, mid- and late-season varieties to extend the harvest season.

Here are some good varieties to try:

‘Ambrosia Hybrid’ – (75 days) This sugar-enhanced (SE) variety produces 8-inch yellow and white ears on 6-1/2-foot-tall plants.

‘Jubilee Hybrid’ – (81 days) These 7-foot stalks produce 8-1/2-inch ears with super sweet yellow kernels.

‘Silver Queen’ – (88 days) This popular, late maturing, heirloom grows 7-1/2 feet tall and produces sweet, white kernels.

‘Sugar Buns Hybrid’ – (72 days) This very early sugar-enhanced sweet corn variety grows 6 feet tall and produces 7-inch yellow ears.

‘Trinity Hybrid’ – (70 days) This bicolor sugar-enhanced variety has 8-inch ears and the stalk only grows 6 feet.

Getting a Jump on the Season

Sweet corn is in the grass family and loves heat and moisture. Don’t be in a rush to plant sweet corn in the garden or in a container. If you’re growing old-fashioned varieties, wait until the soil temperature is at least 55 degress F to plant seeds. For sugar-enhanced and supersweet varieties, wait until the soil is at least 60 degrees F.

You can get a jump on the season, especially if you’re growing in a raised bed or container, by laying black plastic over the soil two weeks before planting to hasten the soil warming, or by presprouting seeds indoors. To presprout, soak seeds in a moist paper towel overnight and then plant in the garden. You can even start corn plants indoors in pots and when the seedlings are a few inches tall, transplant them into your plot. Just make sure you protect these early seedlings from cold nights by laying a floating row cover over plants on chilly evenings.

Small Space Design

When growing corn in a small space, think short thick rows. Each kernel of corn is connected to a corn silk. These fine hairs help transport the corn pollen to the kernel for proper development. The pollen drops down onto the silks from the tassels at the top of the plant. In order to have properly filled out corn ears, pollen needs to fall on all the corn silks. If you plant in short rows close together, it’s more likely proper pollination will occur. Plant 4 to 5 plants in a container or plant in beds of at least 4 rows, no more than 4 feet long, spaced 1 foot apart.

Growing Corn

While growing corn in short rows close together helps pollination, to insure success consider hand pollinating the ears. Here’s how. In the morning when the corn tassels have fully extended, slip a brown paper bag over a tassel and shake the pollen loose into the bag. Spread out the silk on each individual corn ear and sprinkle pollen on the silks. Repeat this process three days in a row.

For proper growing, keep your corn well watered, weeded, and fertilized. Spread compost in small beds before planting and side-dress with 3 pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet before tasseling. Keep containers well watered and fertilized every few weeks with a balanced fertilizer.

Your biggest pest may be an animal. Keep raccoons out of the patch with an electric fence, or cover each ripening ear with a paper bag sealed with tape.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Blight on Cucumbers

Q: I’ve grown cucumbers before with good success. Last year, however, my cukes started out great, then yellowed, wilted, and died. What happened and how can I avoid it this year?

A: It sounds like your cucumbers had a bacterial blight disease. This disease attacks mostly cucumbers and melons, causing the leaves to yellow and the plant to die prematurely. A telltale sign of bacterial wilt disease is the white, sticky juice you find inside the infected cucumber stem when you cut it open. It’s commonly spread by the feeding of cucumber beetles. To control this disease, plant blight-resistant varieties and control the cucumber beetle. Simple cucumber beetle controls include not planting cucumbers in the same area each year, cleaning up crop debris well before planting, and placing a floating row cover over the crop before flowers form. After flowers open, remove the row cover so bees can pollinate the flowers. Spray plants with pyrethrum to keep cucumber beetle adults from spreading the disease.

Growing Corn In Pots: Learn How To Grow Corn In A Container

Got soil, got a container, got a balcony, rooftop, or a stoop? If the answer to these is yes, then you have all the ingredients necessary to create a mini garden. Anything that can be grown in a garden can be grown in a container. Thereby you have the answer to “Can you grow corn in containers?” A resounding, “yes!” You can grow corn in a container.

How to Grow Corn in a Container

First of all when growing corn in pots, you must select a container. Use your imagination. Not only will a clay pot work, but lined wooden crates, garbage cans, laundry baskets, barrels, etc. will all suffice. Just be sure they have adequate drainage and are big enough to support fully grown corn plants: at least 12 inches wide and over 12 inches deep. Only about four corn plants will fit with room to grow in a 12-inch pot, so you may need several depending on available space.

The next step for container grown corn is to select the variety of corn, not only what you prefer either for ornamental purposes or for taste, but also suited for growing corn in pots. Corn pollinates via the wind and can cross pollinate very easily. For this reason, it’s best to select and plant just one type of corn variety. Corn plants that produce shorter stalks are a good bet for growing corn in pots. Some examples of these are:

  • Strawberry Popcorn
  • Sweet Spring Treat
  • Sweet Painted Mountain
  • Trinity
  • Chires Baby Sweet

You may want a fast growing variety of corn such as BonJour or Casino, or if you live in an area with cooler, short growing seasons try Painted Mountain. Super sweet varieties of corn are:

  • Bodacious
  • Sugar Pearl
  • Xtra Tender
  • Vision

Use container garden soil specifically formulated to retain moisture and add a bit of fish emulsion or other all-purpose fertilizer to the mix. Space the corn seeds 4-6 inches apart, four seeds per container, about an inch deep into the soil media. If planting multiple pots of corn seeds, space the containers 5-6 inches away from each other.

Care of Corn in Containers

There’s nothing complex regarding the care of corn in containers. Corn needs full sun and warm soil, so situate in an area that gets six or more hours of full sun, ideally against a wall that will retain heat and reflect light.

Water regularly in the morning with a 10-10-10 fertilizer added once the plants are 2 feet tall. Water the corn again in the evening. Mulching around the plants with wood chips, newspaper or grass clippings will also aid in water retention.

With sunny days and fairly minimal care, you should be reaping your corn bounty from your own front steps or lanai in no time.

How to Grown Corn in Containers

While growing your own garden is a labor of love, growing corn takes patience that many gardeners don’t possess. If you just want enough corn for personal use, this article will show you how to grow corn in containers to maximize limited space.

Step 1: The Initial Planting

Planting a corn seed is like most other plants. Use containers that have at least 6 pots per container but you will be staggering the seeds in every other pot. You want to fill each of the pots you are planning to use with garden soil that drains well because you do not want your corn seeds to become saturated with water. Plant the seeds about halfway in the garden soil. Add fertilizer mixed with water. Use 12-15-15 fertilizer and liquid seaweed for the best results.

Step 2: Water Frequently

Corn seeds are very thirsty and require a lot of water. In order to keep them happy you want to water them once or twice a day. Use just enough water to moisten the garden soil. If the water runs out of the container too quickly, use a small stake to poke a hole down to the root ball. When you water the plant you want to make sure the root ball is getting saturated with the water. Once the corn stalk begins to grow you will want to moisten the leaves of the corn stalks several times a week.

Step 3: Heating

Watering and heating the corn goes hand in hand. Use heat lamps to heat the stalks inside the home. If you are planting outside, make sure the corn has access to direct sunlight. Growing corn inside the home is possible with access to heat lamps and a dedicated growing area.

Step 4: Fertilizing

Juicy kernels are produced by corn stalks that have been watered, fed and exposed to lots of sunlight. Fertilizing the plant with 12-15-15 fertilizer and liquid seaweed once a week will go a long way toward growing healthy corn stalks.

Step 5: Sowing the Seeds

To encourage growth it is important to sow the seeds yourself every 3 or 4 weeks. Garden soil turnover is important to retain soil moisture and to circulate nutrients.

Step 6: Moving the Plants

Keep a watchful eye on the corn seeds. They will grow down before they grow upward. Look at the bottom of the pots and once you see the white tip of a root reaching the bottom it is time move the corn plant to a larger container. Failure to do so will create a mess of tangled roots. Loosen the root ball first before transplanting to a larger pot.

Step 7: Manual Pollination

You can encourage better development from your corn by manual pollination. When the tassels mature you can run your hands through them to collect the pollen. Place this collected pollen at the end of each ear.

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