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How to Grow Corn in a Container

by Fern on May 27, 2009

in Fruits & Vegetables,Gardening with Kids

When I asked you all for your best tips for gardening kids, several people mentioned that their kids were really excited about growing edible plants. GardenerGirl mentioned that her kids particularly like planting seeds where they recognize what the seeds are, like sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Emily mentioned that she always enjoyed growing “big” plants. Well, I know of a great edible plant that has both identifiable seeds and gets pretty big: Corn!

Photo by Melissa Maples

Varieties to Try

Corn is probably one of the most widely hybridized edible plants out there, which means you have a lot of choices when it comes to deciding which to grow. My personal preference is to choose something that either tastes better than what you can get in the store, is a dwarf variety, or that has an interesting color.

Since corn doesn’t need a particularly large pot, the only special consideration for container gardeners is height. Remember that a 6 or 7 foot tall plant is actually 7 or 8 feet off the ground when you take into consideration the height of the container. Plants that are that tall may be outside the reach of almost everyone except tall adults.

And since this post is particularly focused on kids who might enjoy growing corn, how can I not highlight this variety: Martian Jewels Sweet Corn. What self-respecting kid wouldn’t enjoy growing a variety of corn from Mars? ;-)

Most people’s backyard is only big enough to grow one variety of corn. This is even more true if you are growing corn on a balcony. However, the reason is not that corn takes up so much space, because they can be packed in rather tightly. Corn is pollinated by the wind, and most varieties will cross pollinate with each other. The resulting corn will not be what you were expecting, rather you will have created a totally new variety that may or may not taste good. If you really want to try more than one variety, stagger your plantings so that they are not pollinating at the same time. Otherwise, different varieties need to be more than 250 feet apart.

How Much to Grow?

As I mentioned above, corn is pollinated by the wind. As you can imagine, this is a very imprecise process. Nothing would be more disappointing to your kids than to work hard all summer long tending their plants only to find half-developed cobs. To improve your chances of success, I think you should grow at least 12 plants, and grow them very close to each other.

Choosing a Pot

While corn doesn’t need a particularly large pot, the plants get tall, and are prone to getting knocked over by the wind. For this reason, I think its best to buy 20 inch pots and plant three plants (in a triangle) in each pot. The combination of a larger pot and all that extra soil well help keep the corn grounded. Four such pots could easily be accommodated on a 7 foot long balcony.

If your kids enjoy crafts, let them paint/decorate the outside of the pots.

How to Sow

Put your pots into place and then fill them with a good quality potting soil. Mix in a 10-10-10 fertilizer according to the package instructions. It’s best to use an organic fertilizer, especially when kids are doing the work. But remember that even organic fertilizers should be applied with parental supervision.

Plant the corn seeds about 1 inch deep, two to hole, three to a pot (in a triangle). If you’re using a pot that is 24 inches or more in diameter, you can squeeze four plants to a pot, in a square arrangement. Water them in and then keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds sprout. If both seeds in a given spot germinate, pull out one so that there are only three plants growing in each pot.

Where to Grow

Corn needs full sun. And lots of nice warm soil. For these two reasons, the ideal spot is against a wall, in an area that gets 6 or more hours of unobstructed sunlight. Walls tend to retain warmth and then release it back in the evening. Walls often reflect light, which can supplement the light your corn plants will get from the sun.

Watering & Feeding

Corn needs lots of water and fertilizer, which is great for kids, because it means that there is always something to do. While you’re waiting for your seeds to germinate, just keep the soil evenly moist. Once the have sprouted, water the plants once a day in the morning. When the plants get to be about two feet tall, water them in the morning with a water soluble 10-10-10 fertilizer, and then once again in the evening with just regular water.

Harvesting

The best time to pick corn is in the morning or evening when it is cool. The silk on the ears should have turned dark brown, and the ears should be firm. Kernels on the tips of the unhusked ears should be plump and milky. Watch the corn closely because the quality changes fast. Corn is ready about 3 weeks after the tassel grows on top of the corn plant.

Children’s Books About Corn

Bonus: Several people mentioned that they enjoyed growing beans as a child. You can easily add beans to a pot with corn by sowing several bean seeds at the base of the corn plants when they are 12 inches tall. Allow the beans to climb up the corn plant. Beans and corn are two of the “Three Sisters,” a combination of plants grown by some Native Americans. The third sister is squash. There is so much history with corn, it is a really great teaching tool in addition to being a lot of fun to grow.

Be sure to subscribe to Life on the Balcony so that you don’t miss the rest of this series of posts on gardening with kids!

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Genevieve May 27, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Very cool post, Fern. I am bookmarking this!

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Patti Garland May 28, 2009 at 5:51 am

I love the varieties of corn you recommended.

Also, when you suggest a fertilizer, would you mind giving a brand name as well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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Fern May 28, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Patti–I’m hesitant to recommend brands, because I don’t think the brands I use are readily available in other parts of the country, and I don’t want to recommend a brand that I don’t use myself. Anyway, the brand I generally use is E.B. Stone. I’ve also used a number of products from Espoma and been happy with them.

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Adriana May 29, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Perfect considering Rocky just dug up all my corn! I was growing Botanical Interests Strawberry Popcorn. So sad.

*shaking fist*

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Fern May 30, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Oh no! I’m sorry Adriana. :-( I have noticed that organic gardens seem more tempting to dogs than conventional ones, because all the fertilizers used in organic gardens smell like things dogs like. And I know you garden in raised beds, which means nice fluffy dirt for Rocky to dig in…

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mike February 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm

when you mention beans does thet include green beans ? thx

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Fern February 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Mike–Yep! most legumes put nitrogen back into the soil, which helps corn, which needs a lot of nitrogen.

Walt June 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I am getting ready to start my first container garden so I’ve been doing a lot of searching on what can and can not be grown in containers. I was very excited when I saw your post about corn. However, being a beginner at the whole garden thing, I have two questions. I live in central FL, so when would be the best time to start my corn garden. The second is more of a general question about organic gardening. Do you recommend a place to get seeds at?

Thanks for your time,
WaltDjr

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Fern June 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Walt–Seeds of Change, High Mowing Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Botanical Interests, and Johnny’s Select Seeds are all good places to find organic corn seed.

As far as when to sow your seeds, you are a little late, (ideally you would have sown them 2 months ago) but you might still have the chance to grow corn this year because Central Florida’s growing season is so long. It’s worth a try!

Kim June 11, 2010 at 9:57 am

Love this post! Am already planning my corn containers for 2011! Quick Question: Do sweet corn varieties only produce one ear of corn per plant or multiple? If multiple, about how many? Thanks, Kim

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Fern June 11, 2010 at 10:33 am

Kim–I think it depends on the variety and how densely you plant them, but most sweet corn varieties produce 1 or 2 ears of corn per plant. Although when plants produce more than 1 ear, the secondary ears are smaller than the first.

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Wendy July 6, 2010 at 10:25 am

@ Walt- Florida is a great time to grow any time of the year, you lucky dog. Also, I would recommend, if you are into container gardening, to get the book by McGee & Stuckey, “The Bountiful Container.” I got it at the library and am going to buy a copy. It’s a great resource. It tells you what varieties are good for growing in containers, depth of container to use for each plant, spacing, and then tidbits about the plant’s fertilizing and other needs.

I like the Epsoma brand of Plant Tone, it is a fertilizer with all the micronutrients in it. I made my own potting soil with 1/3 bagged organic compost (didn’t have a pile yet – it was at a home center, called Nature something); 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat moss. You must water the vermiculite and peat moss very well prior to placing in your container or they won’t take water later. I put everything on an old shower curtain, mixed up, watered, and left overnight, covered. About a month in, I started using the epsoma, worm castings, and sea kelp. I put worm castings and kelp directly into the soil and also make a spray of both and spray on the leaves. My homemade pesticide of onion/garlic head/cayenne pepper with 4 cups of boiled water, steeped overnight, strained and put in a sprayer seems to work adequately too.

I get all my open pollinated, organic, heirloom seeds from http://www.sustainableseedco.com.

The kelp I noticed made a big difference overnight. Bone, blood meal and fish emulsion also work. I also used Flanders cut to fit recycled plastic furnace filter as a rock substitute at the bottom for drainage. It was cheaper than the Better Than Rocks brand and I have noticed that it works great as a drainage product and the roots love to root around in it.

Just thought I would share my experience as this is the first year I’ve done such extensive container gardening: 45 containers! Some are re-purposed 2 liter soda bottles and milk jugs. Work just fine, ain’t fancy, but with proper drainage it is perfect for my greens.

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Fabian September 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm

thanks i got everything for my project.
:) )))

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esrunurse July 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I planted corn for the first time this year……Iwent on vacation 10 days ago and it was about 3 feet hight now the corn stalk is over my head. i am so excited. I am a bit concerned though. You mentioned fertiilzer, I used a good vegetable garden soil that had fertilizer in it. should i get the 10-10-10 fertilizer u suggested and continue.. Im now afraid I wont get any corn cobs although i have the flowers up top. Also, where on the stalk does the corn actually grow from? Thank you, your post help and answered a lot of questions.

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Fern July 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm

It’s hard to say without knowing what kind of fertilzer was in your soil. But you will need to replenish the fertilizer eventually, and then you should use a balanced fert.

hannah bayliss March 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm

corn is yame

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David April 13, 2012 at 9:44 am

Hello! I’m about to start some corn seeds for about 16 plants in peat pots today with my five year old son. He LOVES corn! I’ll update about the planting, possibility of adding beans, the growing, and of course the EATING! All Best. David

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Gina May 23, 2012 at 8:47 am

Growing up, my family always had large gardens, but they are so much work. I wanted to start my own in a smaller scale so that I can manage it. I decided on container gardening until I grow my green thumb. I started some corn recently in smaller pots and now I want to transplant them in to larger ones. They are only about 6 inches high. Should I wait? Also I need to thin a couple of the plants. Do you suggest I disguard some of the plant or try to salvage all of them in the transplanting process?

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Jamie August 23, 2012 at 5:28 am

I just came across this post and you just made me so happy! I didn’t think corn in a container was possible!

I moved into a house with an awesome yard and a garden area already laid out. I planted a bunch of plants this year, corn included, and everything is apparently “full sun”. I did not notice how little sun the garden area actually received.

Next year I’m going to plant stuff that can tolerate 4 hours of sun in the garden itself and I will be placing containers in the few areas of my yard that gets full sun. Until I read this, I thought corn was out of the question.

Thanks again!

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Cheri September 29, 2012 at 10:52 am

I’m from the midwest now living in Santa Monica, CA. If I started a few corn plants now, would they thrive once we start getting shorter days?

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jade November 2, 2012 at 11:46 am

Can corn grow in winter English winter weather or should I wait

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me February 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Would dwarf sugar snap peas grow well in a container with corn? Also do you use some sort of a cage around them to keep them from falling over?

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