Yes, You Can Even Grow Corn In Containers!

I've never been able to grow sweet corn in containers—but I'm planning to change that this summer.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

I’ve been a container gardener for years, growing everything from annuals and perennials to veggies and small fruits in pots of every shape and size, but one thing I’ve never been able to grow in a pot is sweet corn.

Corn is wind-pollinated, and in order for there to be enough pollen in the air to fully pollinate the ears, you need to have many corn plants in tight quarters. Plus, corn plants grow very tall and look awkward in containers. My every attempt to grow corn in containers resulted in plants that were way too tall for their pots and half-formed ears (if any formed at all).

This year is going to be different. And it’s all because of a variety of corn that’s been bred specifically for growing in containers. (You can probably hear me cheering all the way over here in Pennsylvania!)

The Container Corn

Burpee Seeds carries a hybrid sweet corn called On Deck that’s made for container gardeners and those with small gardens. I saw it growing in half-whiskey barrels in a rooftop garden last summer when I was on a local garden tour. When I asked the garden owner about their experience, she said they had very good luck growing On Deck the previous year.

Each stalk produced two or three ears and grew between 4 and 5 feet tall. She said she did help with pollination by brushing a paintbrush against the tassels and then shaking it over the silks every morning for a week or so as soon as the tassels started shedding pollen. However, others don’t go through that effort and the plants still develop full 7-inch-long ears.

This Year’s Garden Experiment

It will be exciting to grow On Deck corn on my patio this summer. I’m already planning a little experiment. I’m going to grow some corn plants in a large, 60-gallon, fabric grow bag, and I’m going to grow another batch in a big plastic tub to see if one container works better than the other.

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Growing Your Corn

Regardless of what type of container you choose, one thing I do know about growing corn is that you don’t want to plant it too early. Wait until the in-ground soil temperature reaches at least 55 degrees F and the nighttime air temperature is consistently warm before sowing the seeds. If you plant the seeds before then, the seeds may rot, even when they’re planted in a container, or the plants may fail to thrive.

Corn also loves full sun, so pick a spot that receives at least eight hours of full sun per day. Burpee suggests planting nine seeds per 24-inch-diameter container, so my pots will each house between 15 and 18 plants. Expect the corn to be ready to harvest in 60 to 65 days, a good three to four weeks before full-sized sweet corn is ready to pick.

I’ll report back later this summer with the results of my experiment. Have you ever grown sweet corn in containers? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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