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Corn Growing Guide

Though it takes up a lot of space in the garden, a supply of ultra-fresh corn (Zea mays) is a luxury that many vegetable gardeners insist upon. Rightly so, too: When an ear of corn is removed from the plant, its sugars began converting to starch immediately, so the sweet taste and juicy texture of just-picked corn deteriorates hourly. Each strand of ""silk"" is actually a female floret connected to a kernel in the ear. The tassel at the top of the plant is composed of male florets, which shower pollen on the female flowers. The kernels swell and develop flavor once each silk receives pollen.

For more growing tips on vegetable varieties, visit our "Vegetable Growing Guide".

Habit: Tall, upright leafy stalks -- corn is a member of the grass family (Poaceae).

Days to Harvest: 66 to 90.

When to Plant: Extremely frost sensitive, corn planted in soils cooler than 55 degrees (65 for super-sweet varieties) fails to germinate or has very poor germination. Direct-sow only after night temperatures are consistently in the 50s. Plant in blocks of at least 3 rows, at least 3 feet long apiece, to ensure best pollination. Hand-pollinate by gently shaking plants toward one another if you cannot devote this much space.

Light: Full sun. Bear in mind that corn's tall stature will cause it to cast shade over neighboring plants.

Soil: Well-drained, amended generously with compost a few weeks before planting.

Watering: Requires ample water especially during fruiting -- up to 2 inches per week.

Fertilizing: Corn is unique in that it grows above ground. This enables the gardener to fertilize by side dressing -- applying a band of organic granular fertilizer directly to the soil surface around the base of the plant. Apply according to rates indicated on package before fruit set.

Pest Problems: Birds and raccoons, Japanese beetles. Corn earworms can be excluded by choosing resistant varieties.

When to Harvest: Note the date that the first silks appear on the plant. Three weeks from that day, begin checking for the dry, brown silks and fully formed ears that indicate ripeness.

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