Whole societies have been built on and continue to be fuelled by corn. Our feeling is that half the world would fall apart and turn to dust if corn suddenly ceased to exist. It is more than just a crop, it is a critical food commodity – and in the home garden, nothing is more impressive than a patch bursting with its lanky stems swaying in the summer sun. Corn goes with scarecrows and veggie patches much like butter goes with toast in the morning. One without the other leaves a dry and unsatisfied feeling.

Growing corn on a commercial scale is entirely different to growing it in a small-space garden. As cobs rely on each other to pollinate properly, planting in a grid of at least 12–16 plants is advised. Any less will have you gambling on the cobs. Some may be fully kernelled while others will look more like your grandfather’s teeth if he decided to remove his dentures.

Of course, not many of us have the space to grow 16 corn plants on our balconies, but that’s ok. There is a way to hand pollinate (see Tip below) that will ensure its dentures are fully capped with succulent, juicy kernels.


Best grown in an in-ground veggie patch. Sow the seeds directly into the patch when the soil temperature is above 20 degrees and make sure to mulch around the plants once they are established. Feed with fish fertiliser monthly.


In ground: Water daily for the first 4 weeks and 3–4 times a week in the absence of rainfall thereafter. Watering frequency may need to be elevated during hot weather.

In Pots: Water daily, in the absence of rainfall, for the entirety of its lifecycle. The best practice is to water in the morning, however on extremely warm days a late afternoon water may also be necessary.


Sow seeds directly into the patch at the required spacing, sowing two seeds per hole. Sow cucumber, pumpkin at the same time (if doing the three sisters companion planting).

Thin seedlings after a month if both seeds have germinated and mulch with 3–5cm of lucerne hay or pea straw. Feed fortnightly with liquid seaweed solution. Sow climbing beans if doing the three sisters companion planting at this stage.

Apply compost around the base after two months at the base of the plants for an extra mid-season feed and to help them form stronger roots.

At 12 weeks as the tassels form on top of the plant, and the cobs and silks below, routinely shake the plant to help transfer the pollen from the male to the female parts. This helps fuller cobs set.

When growing just a few corn plants, it is advisable to hand pollinate the silks by brushing the tassel along it. When the silks have browned off at around 16 weeks, they are ready for picking. To harvest, twist by hand and pull down.


Time until first harvest: 90+ days

How to harvest: Once the silks (stringy matter at top of the corn) have dried up you can begin to harvest. Twist and pull heads from stalks or cut with secateurs.


In small-space gardens where only a few corn plants are growing, hand-pollinate by breaking off the tips of the plant (that carry the pollen) and dust the silks of the developing cobs. Even on commercial-scale farms, this practice is used along the outer perimeter where full development of the kernels can also be problematic.


Cool/Mountainous: October - January
Temperate: September – January
Subtropical: August – February
Tropical: Anytime




Full sun, ideally with protection from wind. Remember that corn is a large plant that casts a long shadow, so position accordingly


2–3 cm


30 cm




Corn is a greedy feeder, so you will need to prepare a rich soil. Add compost and fresh manure, and allow to settle for a fortnight before planting


Pots, in-ground


If you really must <30cm


Self pollination, can hand-pollinate with the silk tassles to ensure you get fuller cobs and not grandpa's teeth


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