The Secret To Growing Corn In Northern Climates

Published by: Nancy Meissner

Secret to corn in the North

Anybody love sweet corn?  All hands go up in our family!!!  But we live in a colder climate and often there’s just not time in one growing season for the corn to develop and ripen to harvest. 

I remember one time soon after we moved to the area, I was looking at plants for sale at a garden center. I saw some  3” pots containing sweet corn plants. We had previously lived in a very warm climate and I had never even considered that one would start corn seedlings indoors!  I thought it was crazy!

It isn’t crazy. Those of us who live in northern climates soon learn that we must plant our gardens quickly and in a timely manner if we want all of our crops to mature between the last spring frost and the first deep freeze in the fall. 

Some plants can tolerate frosts better than others. That’s totally another topic for another post!  But corn, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and many other crops have to be planted after the last spring frost. That leaves a limited time frame for them to grow to maturity and be successfully harvested before a deep or “killing” fall frost. 

I found out the hard way that in our area corn had to be started indoors about 4-6 weeks before it was warm enough outdoors at nighttime for them to escape sudden death. I figured out how many plants I would need in order to produce the number of ears of corn that we would like to have--not only for fresh eating but also for preserving.  Usually, I try to start from 70-100 seedlings. Each corn stalk will produce one or more likely two ears of corn. It’s a plant that takes up a lot of space for what you get, but our family loves our sweet corn and we feel that it is so worth it!  

Here’s where I need to mention that although I typically use only heirloom seeds (so that I can save the seeds for next year’s garden)—in the case of sweet corn I make an exception. I’m quite particular about the sweetness of sweet corn, and I’ve found one variety that makes me happy!  I’ve tried others but they didn’t compare. To me at least. The variety I like is called “Peaches and Cream”. The kernels are a mixture of white and yellow and the taste is heavenly. It is a hybrid corn, but even comparing it to other hybrids I still like it best. So I defer in this case and purchase hybrid seeds of this variety. 

I start the seeds later than I start my other indoor starts. That’s because one year I wasn’t able to plant the seedlings when they were at their prime. They became leggy and started losing their vibrant green color. They looked like they had lost their “oomph”!  And indeed they had lost their “oomph”. They didn’t do well and I didn’t have a good crop. 

So now I try to plant my “Peaches and Cream” seeds about 4-5 weeks before the safe date to plant in our area. And it seems to work well. Even in this northern climate and at a fairly high elevation I’ve harvested sweet corn in late July!  And of course in August and early September. A much better plan than sadly watching immature ears of corn being hit by a heavy freeze in mid-September!  Just something to think about, for all you sweet corn lovers!  


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