Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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When most people think of container gardening, corn is not the first thing that jumps to mind. However, corn can be grown very successfully in a pot, but there are a few special things to consider.
To successfully grow corn in pots, choose a dwarf variety so it doesn't outgrow the pot. It might be a good idea to weigh the pot down with bricks. Choose a pot that is at least 30cm (12inches) wide and 30cm (12inches) deep. This size will comfortably hold 4 corn plants. Use lots of compost and manure with your soil, and consider fertilizing the heavy feeding corn as it grows. Keep corn well watered, and in a warm location with full sun. Corn is wind-pollinated so consider having several pots close together for good pollination.
Read Next: How to grow corn to feed your chickens.
Growing in pots is invaluable if you have limited garden space. Even if you have an established garden, it is still nice to use pots for flexibility and variety. Growing corn in pots also allows you to grow it indoors . Here are 5 things to consider to grow corn in a pot.
Some corn varieties will grow over 3m (12ft) tall, and there are not many pots big enough to accommodate these mammoth varieties. Thankfully, there are other corn varieties that are ideally suited for growing in pots . When growing corn in pots, the shorter the better, but you can choose any dwarf variety that around 1.5m (5ft) tall. You can also choose a brightly coloured option to add a little flair to your garden.
Even if you choose a dwarf variety, corn is a tall, very top-heavy plant. It is a good idea to put a few bricks or rocks in the bottom of your pot to keep it from tipping over, but make sure you don't cover any drain holes.
But what is the best size of pot for growing corn?
Choose a pot that is 30cm (12inches) in diameter, and allows at least 30cm (12inches) of soil depth. A pot this size will comfortably accommodate 4 corn plants. This is, of course, the minimum size for growing corn. In this case, bigger is always better, as it allows more space to add compost which we take about next, and you can grow more plants for better germination (see below).
One advantage of a smaller pot is that it allows you to be able to move the corn plants as needed. Corn needs full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours a day) and it can sometimes be difficult to find a suitable location in your yard or garden. Also, corn needs a long season of warm weather or a certain number of "heat units". Cool weather will retard growth, and cold weather can be detrimental. If you are able to move your pots of corn, you can bring them indoors or under shelter to protect them from extremely inclement weather.
You can also grow corn very well in a 5-gallon bucket. In this case, make sure to choose a bucket that is food grade, and don't forget to drill a few drainage holes in the bottom. You can also use laundry baskets, barrels, crates, garbage cans, and anything else that you have lying around.
Image by Carmen Edenhofer
Corn is a hungry plant, meaning that it will quickly consume all the nutrients in the surrounding soil. Many corn farmers have to careful of this, as corn grown successively in the same field will quickly consume everything in the soil and leave a dead field behind. You have to be especially careful of this when growing corn in a pot, as the soil quantity and quality are limited by the container size.
The solution is compost and manure. When preparing your pots for corn planting, mix a lot of one or both of these with your soil before filling your pot. Compost and manure will add nutrients, humus, and create a good soil tilth. Corn likes a lot of nitrogen, so chicken or horse manure works very well. Make sure any nitrogen-rich manure you use is well rotted or it will burn the roots of your plants.
There are many options of soil you can use. You can use soil right out of your garden. Even if your soil is not the greatest quality, the addition of compost and manure will quickly change that. Potting soil is an obvious and good choice, too, and there are many different options available. You can also make your own potting soil with good results. Here is a recipe for an easy DIY potting soil .
I don't usually promote the use of fertilizers, but in the case of container corn, you might find it necessary to add amendments to the soil as your corn grows. There are many natural and organic fertilizers available, and these are much preferred over synthetic ones. If you choose to use some, follow the directions on the packageing carefully, and keep your corn well fed.
Besides being a heavy feeder, corn is also a thirsty plant. Your corn is going to need an area that is warm with lots of sun (at least 6 to 8 hours each day), which means it will also dry out quickly. Keep your corn moist by watering about every second day for the best results. Make sure that you don't over water, as corn will quickly rot in wet conditions especially if there is standing water.
Mulching your plants with newspaper, wood chips, or straw will help retain soil moisture and maintain a more stable temperature.
Image by Carmen Edenhofer
In your 30cm (12inch) pot, you want to plant 5 to 6 seeds. They might not all germinate, and if they do you can select the 4 healthiest and pluck out the rest.
Thinning the corn for a very early harvest
Plant the kernels 2.5cm to 5cm deep and lightly cover them with soil. Try to keep the seeds 8cm to 10cm (3-4inch) from the edge of the pot to give the roots space to grow.
Corn germinates best with a warm soil temperature. At an ideal soil temperature of 18C (65F), corn will germinate in about 6 days. It will germinate in cooler temperatures than that, but at 12C (55F) it can take up to two weeks to germinate. If the temperature drops below 10C (50F), germination will be spotty or the seeds won't come up at all.
The trickiest part of growing corn in pots is ensuring good germination. Corn is pollinated by the wind. Pollen is produced in the tassel at the top of the corn plant, and this pollen is blown onto the female silks of the ear (each silk grows one kernel so there are around 800 silks on a single cob). To ensure consistent kernel growth, corn is usually planted in blocks to ensure adequate pollination.
Planting 4 stalks in each pot will help with pollination, but this might not be enough. You might want to consider having several pots in close proximity to each other, especially when the tassels form, to promote pollination. There is nothing worse for the corn grower than shucking a cob of corn and finding only a handful of plump kernels on an otherwise empty ear.
After you have enjoyed your beautiful corn plants all summer long, it is time to reap the rewards of your labour. Harvest your corn when it is mature, and enjoy it with your dinner to celebrate the home-grown container harvest.
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