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Vermont Garden Journal: Growing Sweet Corn In Small Spaces

Bryant Olson
Many gardeners think that you have to have a large plot of land to grow sweet corn, but actually you can grow this summer crop in an area as small as 4 feet by 4 feet.

It is as quintessential as the fourth of July and apple pie. Sweet corn is an All-American crop and there's nothing like munching on an ear of freshly picked corn on a hot summer day. It's so sweet, I don't even bother cooking it.

When gardeners think of growing sweet corn we often think it terms of large plots of land. There's a good reason for that. Corn is wind pollinated. The tassel produces pollen grains that fall on the sticky hairs of the corn ear. Each individual hair is attached to a kernel of corn and must have a pollen grain pollinate it. When you think about how many kernels are in an ear of corn, that's a lot of pollen. By growing corn in groups you increase the chances of getting complete pollination.

But most home gardeners don't have the luxury of committing a large area to growing sweet corn. Luckily, you don't have to. You can grow your own sweet corn in an area as small as 4 feet by 4 feet. Here's how. Choose varieties, such as 'On Deck', that grow only 4 to 5 feet tall. Plant 4 rows, spaced 1 foot apart, 4 feet long. Grow only one variety per block. You can also grow 4 to 5 plants in a 2-foot wide container. This tight spacing is more likely to insure pollination than growing corn in a few long rows. To help pollination, once the tassels form, place a brown bag over them to collect the pollen and sprinkle it on the ear silks. Repeat this 3 days in a row. You should have edible sweet corn a few weeks later.

And now for this week's tip, to keep tall growing perennials such as bee balm, phlox and Siberian catmint little shorter this season, try pinching back the tops now before they start to flower. The pinching back will dwarf the plant and keep it a bit more under control, but it also will delay flowering.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about rhubarb. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.


Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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