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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Corn Confidential (page 3 of 4)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Spacing and Care

In an attempt to reduce the edge effect, you may be tempted to jam a lot of corn into a little space. Don't. If gardeners make one mistake in growing corn, says Bill Watson, president of Liberty Seed Company in New Philadelphia, Ohio, it's planting too close. "They crowd plants into rows or plant three or four seeds in hills 12 inches apart. And they don't get anything," he says.

No amount of fertilizing, watering, or hand-pollinating can rescue corn that's too crowded. Watson says corn needs to be planted in rows three feet apart with seeds 10 to 12 inches apart in the rows. You'll need about four ounces of seed to plant four 25-foot rows, yielding about 100 ears of corn.

David Sperling, director of research at Robson Seeds in Hall, New York, says that if you're growing small, early corn with short stalks you might get away with planting it in blocks, spacing the seeds 12 inches apart in all directions. But make sure the corn patch is no more than four plants wide. The flip side of the edge effect is that corn likes to be at the edge of the field where it will get full sun from the ground up.

If you don't feel you can spare the space to plant single rows three feet apart, you can cheat a little bit, says Sperling, and get more plants per area by planting double rows. Sow two rows about a foot apart, with seeds 10 inches apart in the rows and configured so that the hills are staggered. From the center of that paired row, move over three feet and make that the aisle between two more paired rows. That gives you four rows in four feet instead of four rows in 10 or 12 feet.

Even when planted at the maximum spacing, corn needs plenty of food and water. "You've got to use a starter fertilizer, and then you should sidedress two more times," Watson says. Here's a growers' secret.

Use a fast acting fertilizer, an amount equivalent to two pounds of 6-12-12 per 100 square feet. Then go through and sidedress when the corn is about six inches high and again when it just begins to tassel. Each time just dribble a bit of 6-12-12 along both sides of the row.

You can use organic fertilizers, but since they're usually slow acting you should apply the bulk of it before planting. Try broadcasting cottonseed meal or dried blood at a rate of five pounds per 100 square feet. Then when the corn is about knee-high, sidedress it with a dusting of either.

Make sure the corn is getting at least an inch of water per week. If the soil moisture is depleted the corn will begin to wilt; then it will need about two inches a week as the ears begin to fill out.

Follow these guidelines and you can count on one good-quality ear per stalk. Plant a prolific variety and you may get twice as much.

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