A step-by-step guide to growing corn in pots on your patio or deck
Nothing says summer like sweet corn! How much fun would it be to have a couple of fresh ears of corn on a summer evening, straight from your back yard? Most of us can picture waving fields of sweet corn across the plains of the Midwest, but did you know growing corn in containers totally works too?
As long as you have a large container and a spot with full sunlight, you can grow corn on your patio or deck. You won’t get piles of corn from just a few plants, but dwarf varieties do well in smaller spaces and produce 1-2 ears each. They just need plenty of water, sun and well-fertilized, loamy soil.
I don’t know about you, but I grow things just for fun all the time. Most container gardens aren’t big enough for a huge supply of any given vegetable, at least not like you’d get in bigger in-ground gardens.
But the journey is the reward, right? The act of gardening is so zen and fulfilling: getting your hands in the dirt, nurturing something from seed to harvest, watching pollinators help out and plants bloom and grow. It’s pretty awesome, even if you don’t end up with huge piles of food.
I even grow things my family doesn’t love (like tomatoes – I know, we’re the only people on the planet who don’t love fresh tomatoes) for fun and to learn more about plants and gardening.
Corn, honestly, is in that category: fun to grow, likely to produce a small harvest.
And corn in particular is such a fun experiment! It’s always cool to watch a tall stalk emerge from a tiny seed. You’ll feel like you have a little bit of farm life right there on your patio.
Read on for all the details you need to grow corn in containers!
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How to plant corn in a pot
Corn really isn’t too challenging to grow, so it’s also a good beginner container garden plant. Even thought it’s tall, it doesn’t need much space horizontally and doesn’t need to be staked.
A few things to keep in mind:
Corn loves to be warm! Make sure you select a sunny spot that won’t be prone to drafts or lots of shade. Dark containers are helpful as they can retain heat in the soil.
Fresh corn can be ready to harvest in 2-3 months depending on your weather. If you have a longer growing season, you might consider starting a second round about a month after the first so you can enjoy the taste of summer even longer.
How to grow corn from seed
Select a container that is at least 12” across, which can hold about 3-4 stalks. But I recommend getting a bigger container or several, if you’re growing more than 2. A small pot has less space for soil and roots, which restricts growth and doesn’t provide enough nutrients.
Corn is pollinated by wind, so the plants need to be close together. You can get larger containers as well as bunch containers close together.
Most corn won’t need help pollinating if you have enough plants together, but you can always help things along by taking off a tassel and brushing it along the silks of the other plants.
Plant seeds in a circle a few inches in from the edge of the container, about an inch deep. This will keep them spaced nicely. Plant about twice as many as you plan to grow, so you can thin to select the strongest ones.
Keep consistently watered until they emerge, usually about 5-10 days. Wait until they have at least one set of true leaves (beyond the two leaves that first emerge with the seedling) before thinning.
Corn does not transplant well, so it is best to direct seed it to your preferred containers. You can try sprouting indoors if you worry your growing season is too short, but use biodegradable seed starting pots so you can plant them directly in your container.
Corn requires warm temps and can’t tolerate frost, so be sure to plant outdoors after the risk of frost is over. (Check your frost dates if you aren’t sure.)
For best results, your container should get plenty of sunlight, at least 6 hours per day.
Best soil for growing corn in containers
As with all container garden vegetables, as a general rule you’ll want to choose a high-quality potting mix or make your own. Never use garden soil in containers, as it can harbor bugs, fungi and bacteria and is often too heavy and dense for pots.
- Miracle-Gro Potting Soil is the most popular (and my favorite) because it’s predictably high-quality.
- However, if you prefer all organic fertilizer in your potting soil, try Fox Farm Ocean Forest Potting Mix. It’s super highly rated and a popular choice among organic gardeners.
Best varieties of corn for containers
While other varieties can thrive in pots as well, it’s ideal to find a dwarf variety or types that don’t grow much taller than 6 feet.
These sweet corn varieties will have better yield — without needing a lot of space — and the best chance of fitting in your containers as the stalks grow.
It’s also fun to select some varieties for drying and popping. These types are often blue, red, purple and more, and look really festive and colorful in a fall display.
Some container-friendly varieties (all good choices but different uses, so be sure to read descriptions closely):
Best containers for growing corn
The right pot makes a big difference for larger container garden vegetables. You need to make sure you’re giving them enough room to grow, even in a small space.
Select a large pot or container with good drainage. Corn loves lots of water, so it also needs to drain well to avoid mold and mildew. Always be sure containers have at least one or two good drainage holes, to help prevent soggy roots.
Heavy, large containers allow the corn to grow taller without toppling the pot.
Some great options for corn include:
- My recommendation (I grow just about everything in these things): 10-gallon fabric grow bags (16″ diameter, 12″ depth)
- Whiskey barrel (22″ diameter)
- 5 gallon buckets (from any garden store)
How to take care of corn in a container
How much water does corn need?
Corn loves a lot of water consistently throughout the summer. The potting mix should stay moist through the growing season, as well as have good drainage. A layer of mulch in the container can help retain water. It doesn’t need to be any specific kind of mulch or anything fancy; I use an inch or two of dried grass clippings.
Aim for an inch of water per week, and check for any drying or curling leaves, which indicate the plant is thirsty.
How to fertilize corn
Corn needs lots of nitrogen to grow tall and dark green. Adding good quality compost to the soil helps. (Check out my Compost 101 post for lots more detail about compost!)
It’s also a good idea to supplement with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer like fish emulsion. I use GS Plant Foods Organic Fish and Kelp Blend and my plants always love it.
Fun fact: If you have an aquarium, did you know you can use fish tank water for a nitrogen boost? It’s true!
About 9 weeks after germination can be a sweet spot for fertilizing. After that, ease up on the nitrogen-heavy fertilizer so you get good fruit production and pollination.
Common corn pests
When it comes to growing corn, animals are some of the biggest pests (literally and figuratively). Raccoons and squirrels will love to pick off your plants, so either keep the containers in a fenced-off area or keep an eye out.
Aside from netting, which is cumbersome and not easy to manage, I think the best way to deter squirrels is to bury a few tufts of human hair just below the surface of your potting soil. We have a ton of squirrels in our area, and I swear by this trick to keep them away from my container garden! Just snag a handful next time you get a haircut and save it in a baggie until you’re ready to plant.
The European corn borer, corn earworm and corn flea beetles are other pests to watch out for, and make sure to destroy your stalks at the end of the season so they don’t overwinter and come back next year.
Adult corn borers are small, tan, nocturnal moths. They first appear as adult moths in early spring, when they lay eggs on the plants. Watch for egg clusters on the underside of leaves. The larvae are the ones that do the damage, by eating leaves and tunneling through the stalks.
Experts recommend closely monitoring corn for borers and if you see signs of them, using pheromone traps to control the population.
Another common issue with corn is fungus, which can become a problem because corn loves water and needs a lot of it. The most important way to prevent fungus is to make sure you have enough drainage holes on your containers.
How many ears of corn per stalk can I expect?
Most sweet corn stalks don’t produce more than two ears of corn, which is why farms grow many acres of open fields to get a large harvest. In a small container, they may only produce one ear.
So like I said earlier, you won’t get much corn out of a plant or two. If you are wanting more corn than for a couple of meals, you’d need to plant quite a few stalks!
But even just a plant or two is fun to grow, and it’s something kids enjoy planting and eating (I mean, my kid doesn’t like eating it because #picky … but I’m sure some other kids out there do!).
How do you know when to pick corn?
Corn takes about 60-100 days to reach maturity, usually mid- to late summer if planted in spring.
Ears should be ready to harvest about 20 days after silks first appear.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Fat, dark green ears
- Tassels have turned dry and brown
- Top of ear is rounded vs pointed
- Firm when gently squeezed
- Popping a kernel with a fingernail yields a milky substance rather than water
How to pick corn
Corn is pretty easy to pick! Grasp the ear with the heel of your hand by the base and your thumb pointed toward the silks. Pull up on the base, pulling the top of the ear down toward the stalk, and twist. It should snap right off!
After you harvest, eat corn right away or refrigerate as soon as possible (it will keep fresh in the fridge for about 2-3 days). Most corn varieties can lose as much as 50 percent of their flavor within 18 hours, if they aren’t refrigerated.
If you’re planning to preserve by canning or freezing, do so within a few days of refrigeration.
Keeping corn cool improves flavor because high temperatures convert the sugar in the kernels to starch, giving it a bland taste, according to the University of Georgia Extension.
Recipes for fresh sweet corn
You might only have a few ears, so make the most of it! Of course there’s always the classic and delicious corn on the cob with butter … and here are a few more ideas to try:
- Corn ribs – baked, seasoned, crispy goodness
- Fresh corn salsa – mix up your usual jarred salsa routine
- Avocado corn salad – so many good things in one bowl
- Mexican corn on the cob – cheese, lime and spices make this amazing
- Crab and corn chowder – a yummy twist on traditional corn chowder
- Cornbread muffins with fresh sweet corn – fresh kernels give a juicy boost
More ideas for your veggie container garden:
- Veggies that grow well together in containers
- Growing zucchini in containers
- Growing okra in pots
- Growing pumpkins in containers
- How to grow green beans in a pot
- Fall and winter vegetables for container gardens
- How to grow garlic in pots
- Growing jalapeños in pots