Corn: Planting Basics

By National Gardening Association Editors

There's an old farmer's rhyme about planting corn seed: "One for the blackbird, one for the crow, one for the soil and one to grow."

Although it's not necessary to plant four times the amount of seed that you actually want to grow, a little extra doesn't hurt, if only to ensure good germination. As for the blackbird and the crow, they may be tough to beat in large cornfields, but there are a few ways to outwit them in the home garden.

Planting Methods

Once the seedbed is well worked and fertilized, you're ready to plant. There are two traditional ways to plant corn: three to five seeds grouped together in small circles, or "hills,"or spaced evenly down straight rows, one behind the other.

Many people find that planting corn in rows takes less time. There's usually less thinning needed, and it's easy to cultivate rows during the season. To plant in rows, stake each row the length you want and stretch a string along the ground to mark the planting line. Use the edge of a hoe or the end of its handle to draw a shallow furrow, one to two inches deep, along one side of the string. A handy way to fertilize the row at this time is to draw a second shallow furrow down the other side of the string. Sprinkle a band of fertilizer in this furrow. When it's time to cover the seeds, one pass with a hoe will cover the fertilizer at the same time.

How To Plant

To plant, just drop seeds into the planting furrow, spacing them 8 to 10 inches apart. Firm the seeds into the soil with the back of a hoe to keep the seeds in place. This allows good contact with the soil, which is important for germination.

Next, cover the seeds with one to 1 1/2 inches of soil. You can draw the hoe along the string to flatten the ridge of soil created by making the furrow. This automatically brings the planting and fertilizer furrows to ground level, covering the seeds and fertilizer with the right amount of soil. You can also cover corn seeds by raking one to 1 1/2 inches of soil over them, using soil from the edges of the furrow. Firm the soil one more time after covering.

Leave 24 to 36 inches between the rows for cultivation, and plant at least four rows for the best pollination. Many short rows will provide better pollination than just a few long ones. If you intend to weed and cultivate the corn rows with hand tools, you don't need as much room between the rows as you do if you plan to cultivate by machine.

Planting in Hills

To plant in hills, stake out the rows, but don't make the straight-line planting furrow. Instead, every 18 to 24 inches, use your hoe to draw a circular planting furrow, about six inches in diameter. Place a small handful of fertilizer to the side of the seeds and cover it. Plant three to five seeds in each circle. Firm the seeds, cover with one to 1.5 inches of soil and firm again.

If all the seeds in each hill come up, you'll have to thin out all but the two or three strongest or the seedlings will be too crowded. If you don't like to thin corn, don't plant in hills. However, plenty of gardeners don't mind hand thinning. Try planting both ways and decide for yourself.

Other articles in this series:
1. Corn: Planting Basics ← you're on this article right now
2. Corn: Planting Variations

This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Sweet Corn / Planting.

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