PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
June 22, 2017

As garden crops go, corn is among the heaviest feeders. To support tall growth and good ear formation, corn crops often need supplemental additions of nitrogen; there’s typically not enough of this nutrient available in garden soils to support such a large-statured crop. Fertilizing corn in the home garden is an essential summer chore, if you want a hearty crop of plump ears.

When To Fertilize Corn In The Summer

Test your garden soil every few years to ensure its pH is at the correct level to support the growth of most common garden crops, including corn. The best pH for most vegetables is between 6.0 and 6.5, and ensuring your soil’s pH fits in this range improves the availability of most nutrients to your corn plants.

That said, even when the soil’s pH is in the suitable range, supplemental nitrogen fertilizer is often necessary when growing corn. Adding yearly additions of well-composted manures and using legume cover crops will add a good bit of nitrogen to the soil, but when your corn plants reach two feet tall, it’s time for fertilizing corn in the home garden.

Organic Products For Fertilizing Corn

If you want to avoid using chemical-based fertilizers in your veggie patch, you’ll need to turn to organic nitrogen fertilizers to give your corn plants a boost. The following sources of nitrogen are plant- or animal-based and require soil microbes to break them down into a form of nitrogen the plants can use. Thankfully, upon adding one of these fertilizers to the corn patch, all the necessary soil microbes work very quickly to break down these products and release the nitrogen to your growing corn plants.

  • Alfalfa meal: Made from dried alfalfa plants, this plant-based fertilizer is about 4 percent nitrogen. It’s often used as an animal feed supplement, too, and it promotes a balance of healthy soil microbes.
  • Cottonseed meal: A coarsely granulated product made from the hulls of cottonseeds, cottonseed meal is about 6 percent nitrogen. Once in the soil, it rapidly breaks down and provides a burst of nitrogen to plants within a few days of application.
  • Blood meal: Derived from dried blood from slaughterhouses, blood meal contains about 12 percent nitrogen. It acts quickly in the soil and begins to provide nitrogen to plants almost immediately.
  • Feather meal: Another animal byproduct from slaughterhouses, feather meal contains approximately 14 percent nitrogen. It’s inexpensive, though it takes a bit longer for the microbes to mineralize than some of the other organic nitrogen sources discussed here.
  • Soybean meal: With a nitrogen content of about 7 percent, soybean meal is another option for fertilizing corn in the home garden.
  • Fish fertilizers: Liquid fish fertilizers as well as granular fish-based fertilizers are good nitrogen sources for the corn patch. Though they can smell bad, fish-based fertilizers are mineralized by soil microbes very rapidly. Depending on the formulation, they can contain between 5 percent and 10 percent nitrogen.

How To Fertilize Corn

Adding nitrogen to your corn plants is as simple as side-dressing the rows at the recommended application rate shown on the product’s label when the plants are approximately two feet tall. Lightly scratch it into the soil’s surface so the soil microbes can quickly access it, and then water it in.

A word of caution: it is possible, of course, to overfertilize corn plants. Do not add any more fertilizer than recommended on the label. A single application is all that’s necessary, except in the case of extreme nitrogen deficiencies. Conduct a soil test every few years to ensure all essential plant nutrients are in the proper balance.

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