Corn on the cob used to be my favorite summer treat as a child, and my parents used to grow lots of it. I’ve been gardening for a couple of years in my small kitchen garden and never really thought much of growing corn. In my mind, my space was simply too small.
It’s a common misconception that you need a large space to grow corn. When growing corn in your own garden conditions are very different from when growing in a big field. But if you’re using the right techniques you can successfully grow corn even in a tiny garden, and that’s precisely what this article is going to teach you.
When growing corn in a small space, plant it close together (12 in / 30 cm apart) in a square or a circle and focus on just one variety to avoid cross-pollination. Succession planting and using the right companion plants will help you enjoy an abundant corn harvest from your small garden.
How to space corn in a small garden for maximum efficiency
The square foot method is a great way of growing lots of crops in a smaller area. It’s done by dividing your raised bed into 1 foot (30 cm) squares. This way you can fit more plants in a smaller space, compared to when planting in rows. You can use string to mark the squares, or you can just eyeball it.
Just remember to measure from the inside of your raised beds to get the correct measurements!
When growing in a small place, we of course want to space our plants as close as possible without compromising the yield. In a no-dig garden, you can actually space your plants closer together because there is less pressure from weeds, and you have better access to take care of your plants.
I normally space corn 30 cm apart when interplanting. Play around with this distance, and try to space them closer together or further apart and see how you like it best.
These days, I no longer pay too much attention to the suggested spacing on the back of the seed packet, instead, I experiment to see what works best in my garden. It’s a fun way to learn more about plants, and it will make you a more confident gardener. A well-nourished soil is more forgiving in terms of spacing because vegetables don’t need to compete as much for nutrients.
Another important part of growing corn in a small space is pollination. When growing corn in a small garden you might not have room to plant lots of it. So how do you make sure your plants get pollinated?
The first thing you can do to help pollination is planting your corn in squares or circles – not in rows. This means that the wind will help pollinate all of your plants. You can also space your plants closer together to help with pollination – great news for growing in a tiny space.
Best companion plants for corn
Since corn is a tall and not too bushy plant, there are a lot of options for companion planting. Corn is a warm-weather crop so pair it with other warm-weather crops. Interplanting corn with salads, beans, beetroot, squash, or even tomatoes works great.
I normally space corn 30 cm apart when interplanting. Try planting it together with your favorite small to medium-sized vegetable plants and see how it goes!
‘The three sisters’ is another popular way of growing corn. First originated in Native American gardens, it was a way to increase productivity where space was limited. The corn was planted together with beans and squash. The big leaves from the squash keep moisture in the ground and prevent weeds, whilst the beans pull nitrogen into the soil and grow up the corn to provide structure. This is another great way to get a bigger harvest from a smaller space.
Can you grow different corn varieties together in a small garden?
You can grow different varieties of corn in a small garden, but you might not get a great harvest. When different varieties of corn pollinate each other you risk low pollination or no harvest at all. I recommend sticking to one variety for best results. You can always try a new one next year!
To increase pollination you can hand pollinate by giving the stalks a shake once in a while. The pollen will then fall onto nearby plants. And if you really want to try growing multiple corn varieties, think about ideas to keep them separate.
Pollen can travel hundreds of meters in the wind, so simply growing the corn in different parts of the garden may not be enough to avoid cross-pollination.
If you have access to a greenhouse you could try planting one variety in the greenhouse and one variety outside. Or you could choose one early and one late variety of corn, avoiding cross-pollination since the plants won’t mature at the same time.
Getting started with corn: direct sowing or transplants?
If you’re growing corn for the first time, know that you can either sow it directly in the ground or start it in pots and transplant it outside. Both methods work great, and you may end up preferring one over the other.
I’m a big fan of transplanting. I start most of my garden seeds indoors, under lights (you can use a greenhouse), and then transplant the seedlings outside when they’ve reached the right size. I do these even with my warm-weather crops when the temperature is no longer too cold for germination.
The reason why I prefer starting my seeds in a sheltered environment is that I have better control over the humidity and temperature levels. When sowing seeds in the ground, you may deal with all kinds of critters that eat the seeds, or it may be too hot or too dry for your seeds to germinate.
When starting corn indoors, you can take a 3-4 inch plastic nursery pot – the kind we usually use for growing peppers in – and sow about 3 corn seeds. If all 3 germinate – good for you, you’ll have extra plants. Don’t thin them, and allow them to grow for at least a couple of weeks.
If you’re interested in purchasing the right size of nursery pots, you can find a selection of them here.
When the corn seedlings reach a good size – I like to get them to at least 10 inches – it’s time to transplant them. Take the plants out of the pot, wet the roots, and do your best to untangle the 2-3 seedlings. Even if you end up breaking the roots, there’s no need for concern. Corn is very forgiving, it will soon recover and shoot up new growth.
Water the seedlings thoroughly and continue to water during the first week. If it’s very hot outside, it’s best to transplant them in the evening so that they have time to recover overnight.
If you’re looking to direct sow, you can increase your chances of germination and practice station sowing, a method of sowing that is best suited for larger seeds. Make a deep hole and drop 2-3 corn seeds in it. If all seeds germinate, thin them to one per hole. Sow your corn seeds in a square or a circle, about 12 inches, or 30 cm apart.
How to tell when your corn is ready to harvest? Corn is ready to pick when the hairs at the top of the cob are turning brown. The cob should also have a “fat” feeling as the kernels fill. This way you will get a nice flavor, a mix of sweet and starchy.
Growing corn doesn’t have to be complicated, and a small no-dig garden is the perfect place to start. By not disturbing the soil and using organic growing methods you will have a productive garden with minimal effort.
Corn is a fun and rewarding plant to harvest, especially since its shape makes it perfect for interplanting. I suggest experimenting with different companion plants – remember, the best veggies to grow are the ones you will enjoy eating.