How to Grow Corn in a Raised Bed Garden or Your Backyard Homestead

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Learn how to grow corn like a boss this year so you can enjoy summer BBQs, fresh corn on the cob, winter nights stringing popcorn garland for the Christmas tree and so much more!

Growing corn is easy – whether you plant it directly in the ground or grow it in a raised bed. We’ll show how to grow the most stunning corn in this year’s vegetable garden!

How to Grow Corn

How to Grow Corn in a Raised Bed Garden or Your Backyard Homestead

Growing corn in my backyard garden has long been one of my favorite plants because there are so many lovely varieties. Like eggs, corn comes in all colors – rainbow corn, rich green, vibrant orange, lovely blue. 

Unwrapping an ear of corn is like opening a present! I’m always astounded by the beauty of corn.If you’d like to grow corn too, here are tips that will help you maximize your harvest, regardless of the type of corn you grow.

There’s nothing like eating homegrown corn. It’s simply one of the most delicious things you can grow in your garden. However, I also love growing lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, and snap peas almost as much!

Types of Corn

Corn is actually a type of grass with lots of different varieties. Depending on the type of corn you grow, you can expect this tall plant to grow anywhere from 4 to 12 feet tall. Corn generally bears one to two ears of corn per stalk, but some types of corn do grow more ears.

It bears mention that there are a lot of different types of corn. Here are some of the most notable types of corn for eating, popping, grinding, and ornamental uses.

Field corn

Field corn is what you see when you drive around midwest states in the summer. In 2018, 92% of all field corn grown in the US was GMO, or GE as they’re calling it now, according to the FDA. Field corn is used for animal feed, ethanol production, and is also deconstructed and turned into grain alcohol, high fructose corn syrup, etc. 


Popcorn is a lot of fun to grow – just be careful about cross pollination. Popcorn takes longer to germinate than sweet corn, and most varieties require 90-120 days to grow.

Some of our favorite popcorn varieties are:

corn seed heart

Flint corn

Flint corn also a lot of fun to grow. This type of corn is most often used for grinding into cornmeal or flour. It’s also a lovely ornamental corn. I mostly grow flint corn in my garden, leaving the sweet corn to my farmer neighbor. I’ve grown and love: Striped Japonica, Atomic Orange, and Green Oaxacan corn.

Sweet corn

Sweet corn is as varied as the rest of the corn types. It’s also worth noting, that most sweet corn is NOT genetically modified, with several favorite hybrid and heirloom varieties.

There are many types of sweet corn, but standard sweet corn varieties in Iowa include Peaches and Cream, Buttergold Sweet, and True Gold Sweet Corn.

planting corn

When to Plant Corn 

Corn is best planted directly in the soil once the ground is nice and warm. You want your nights to be a steady 60 F or warmer for good germination.

Corn will tolerate a light frost as long as it is fewer than about two inches tall, but it won’t germinate until soil temperatures are around 50 F. 

In my zone 5b garden in Iowa, I start watching the weather in early April to hopefully plant corn by mid-to late April. According to the Iowa State Extension, the corn planting window with near 100% germination rate is between April 15 and May 10. That means, the best time to plant may well be BEFORE your last frost date.

You can start your corn sooner by adding black plastic to the ground to help warm the soil. Once you have your soil warmed you can begin planting but by adding a low tunnel you can get a little bit of a jump. 

Just beware that if you have a frost and your corn is too tall, it can die. Corn IS frost sensitive.

Don’t waste corn seeds planting it in cold soils because your corn seeds will rot in the ground if it isn’t warm enough. Make sure to test your soil temperature to determine optimum planting time. I also watch the farmers around me. If I see the big planters out putting in their corn crop, I know it’s ok for me to plant my corn as well.

How to Plant Corn

Corn needs to be planted in full sun (it needs at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight) and in well-drained soil. Sow seeds about one inch deep and 6-8 inches apart. I usually plant two corn seeds together and then thin them out to 8 to 12 inches apart once they germinate. Soils with a pH of 5.8 to 7.0 will make your corn the happiest. Use a soil test to make sure you soil is adequate for your corn.

Plant your corn in squares. Do NOT do a long, single row as you won’t get a good harvest. Corn is pollinated by the wind and corn stalks need to grow side by side so every tassel is pollinated and you get plenty of kernels on each cob. If you plant in single long rows, your corn might not get good pollination or proper ear development.

Corn is a heavy feeder and benefits from a lot of organic matter like compost. It grows well in the same spot beans grew the previous year. I’d cut the beans off at the base leaving the roots and the nitrogen nodules to break down in the soil just waiting to feed the corn next year. Also put plenty compost on the beds once the corn is around 6” high.

Corn also grows well using the square foot gardening method. To get the most corn and in the least amount of space, imagine a diamond. Each point on the diamond is 6” away from the point next to it. Drop a seed an inch in the ground at each of those points.  

If you want to eat corn through the whole season plant another block a week or 2 later for a continued harvest through the season. I always planted a new block every week. If we were getting tired of it I would just can or freeze for winter eating. Be sure to check how long it takes for your corn to grow.  

How To Grow Corn in a Raised Bed

It is possible to grow corn in a small space or using the Square Feet Gardening Method and there are several benefits for doing so, including better soil drainage, warmer soil temperatures, and raised beds are often easier to maintain and keep weed free. It night also be easier to install a watering system of soaker hoses for regular watering of your garden beds.

If you want to raise corn in a square foot garden, plant 4 seeds per square foot. Make sure that you thin the corn seedlings if they all germinate and only leave two plants to grow. You might want to dedicate an entire raised garden bed to corn and companion plants so that you get proper pollination for your delicious fresh sweet corn.

Choosing a dwarf variety like Blue Jade Dwarf Sweet Corn or Silver Queen will help you maximize growing corn in a raised bed garden.

Can you grow corn in a container?

A lot of people wonder whether corn grows in containers, and the answer is yes, if you get the right types. Corn with shorter stalks like Strawberry Popcorn and On Deck Sweet Corn will grow well in containers.

Be Careful of Cross Pollination

If you’re growing several types of corn, you will need to be aware of cross pollination, especially if you’re growing sweet corn and popcorn. Plant them too close together and you will end up with some weird popcorn mix because the popcorn genes are dominant.

To avoid cross pollination you can do three things:

  1. Only grow one type of corn per year (how boring is that?)
  2. Spread your corn types out, separating by at least 100 feet per variety, but probably further apart would be better.
  3. Stagger when you plant each type of corn. Take a look at each variety’s dates to maturity and plant different types of corn three to four weeks apart. This is the method I personally choose and it works fine for me.
corn pests

Common Pests and How to Avoid Them

Corn has a few pests and diseases but they can be treated and even avoided using trap crops, Bt and/or Nematodes. Some of the more common corn pests you will want to be on the lookout for include:

  • Corn earworms – gross greenish worm that likes to eat the kernels as they grow. I see these in a lot of corn cobs. The larvae enter the corn primarily through the corn silk
  • European corn borer – larvae enter the corn through the husks or the cob and feed on the kernels. They plants as the bore through the stalks and can slow the growth of your corn. Read more about corn borers at the Illinois Extension.
  • Fall armyworm – army worms cause leaf feeding damage in corn before it tassels. They’re aren’t usually a big concern unless you have a heavy infestation. Then they may start to eat the corn kernels.
  • Flea Beetles – not terrible destructive, but do cause leaf damage. If you have a very heavy infestation, they will cause your corn leaves to die.
  • Grasshoppers – very heavy infestation of grasshoppers can destroy your corn. Remember the story from Little House on the Prairie? Luckily, DE can help keep down the grasshopper population.
  • Raccoons 

You’ll know harvesting time is near when the raccoons take over your sweet corn. I don’t know how they know, but they do! To keep raccoons out of sweet corn, get good great pyrenees dogs, use an electric fence, or plant behind some sort of tall Fort Knox fence system. You can also grow extra so when the raccoons invariably get some of your sweet corn, you still have plenty to eat.

Make sure to read this post on the Top 10 Most Effective Types of Organic Pest Control to keep corn pests at bay.

Companion Plants Corn Loves

Corn LOVES to keep its root area cool so planting amaranth greens to cover the bottom of the plant will keep down weeds, give you salad to eat, and will help your corn grow better.

You can also plant a 3 Sisters Garden of corn, pumpkin and beans. The pumpkin will grow through shading the corn’s feet and keeping weeds down. Corn has shallow roots so keeping the weeds down naturally is a great way to avoid accidentally hoeing your poor little corn plants out of the garden.

Pumpkins in corn have also shown to reduce the risk of loss by raccoons due to the pricklies on the pumpkin vines. 

The beans will feed everything via the nitrogen nodules. And the corn will provide something for the beans to climb up.  

We love growing 3 Sisters Gardens and have a whole post dedicated to the specifics.

Other good companion plants for corn include:

  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Sunflowers 
  • Nasturtiums 

I like to mix my sunflowers in my corn patch especially as it gives birds something to sit on and look for bugs. Sunflowers also hold up the corn stems if they have a tendency to fall over.  

How Long Does it Take Corn to Grow

Different types of corn have different rates of growth, but on average it takes 60 to 100 days for corn to reach full maturity.

Early varieties like Early Sunglow Hybrid can be ready in as few as 63 day. Heirloom varieties like Striped Japonica takes 85 days to grow.

That’s quite a spread on maturity dates – so make sure to read up on the corn varieties you decide to grow and keep track in your garden planner! Get one for free by subscribing to my blog!

When to Harvest Corn

Harvesting corn depends on the type of corn. Sweet corn will be harvested first and you’ll want to harvest sweet corn at exactly the right time. Overripe sweet corn is the worst, in my opinion. 

Make sure you write down the days to maturity for the varieties you plant and calculate forward so you know about when to harvest. Keep track of these dates in the free garden planner my lovely blog subscribers can download!

Harvest dates are like due dates…merely a suggestion. But you’ll know the corn is ready once the silks start turning brown and each ear of corn has at least one kernel near the top of the cob.

Flint corn and popcorn dries on the cob so there’s no rush to harvest it. Just let your corn stalks die, then pull off corn ears in the fall once everything is good and brown and dead.

How to Harvest Sweet Corn

You will want to harvest sweet corn first thing in the morning. We always harvest within an hour of the sun coming up as that is when the corn is the sweetest. Harvesting in the middle of the day or even in the evening isn’t good. 

If you want to have corn on the cob that evening or for lunch pick it in the morning, drop it into the crisper drawer with a terry cloth towel and add ice cubes to keep that sugar cold and in the corn.

bagged corn ready for the freezer (1)

How to Preserve Corn

Corn can be frozen, dried or canned. I prefer to freeze or dry my corn. While you can freeze corn on the cob, I never freeze corn that way. It just doesn’t ever come out the way you want it too. I have a whole guide on the ins and outs of freezing corn

You’ll want to contact a Ball Canning Guide for how to can your corn. They’re the experts and it’s always a good idea to learn from the best.

To dry your corn spread it out on a dryer sheet and dry at 130* for 8-12 hours. It should be brittle.  To check it’s dry enough, grab a kernel and smack it with a hammer. You want it to explode/shatter.  Store it in an airtight container.  

Do you grow corn?  What is your favorite type to grow?  Sweet? Popcorn? Flour?

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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