Growing and Harvesting Indian Corn

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Many gardeners are surprised to learn that there's no special secret to growing Indian corn. If you can successfully grow sweet corn in your garden, then you can grow Indian corn, too. If you normally use Indian corn as part of your fall decorating scheme, instead of boxing it up and putting it into storage until next year, why not use some of it as seed corn for next year's garden?


A Little History

Historically speaking, Indian corn, also known as Calico corn or Flint corn, is a grain native to the Americas. The rise of corn as a staple in Western diets came only after Native Americans gave seeds to early English colonists, teaching them how to grow and harvest it. When distinguishing it from other grains, the colonists referred to it as "Indian corn" because it was so unlike any of the grains they were used to eating back in England. Needless to say, Indian corn quickly caught on and the rest is history. Today, the United States uses more farmland to grow corn than it uses to grow any other grain.

Saving Seed Is Easy

At the end of the fall season, simply select the largest, best looking ears of corn and put them into plastic bags until next spring. Make sure the bags are airtight and tuck them into a dark cupboard or your pantry. If you're not using Indian corn for fall decorating, seeds are available online (heirloom varieties are best) or you can find seeds and dried cobs at garden centers, feed stores, harvest festivals, or from farmer's markets.


It's probably best to avoid purchasing Indian corn from craft stores as the cobs may have been sprayed with shellac or other preservatives, which will compromise the performance of the seeds.

Growing And Harvesting Your Corn

The growing requirements for Indian corn are essentially the same as they are for other types of corn. The biggest difference is probably the length of growing season needed. Start your Indian corn as soon as possible in the spring. Most types of ornamental corn require at least three months or more to reach maturity.

Additional Growing Tips

  • Plant your corn in full sun as soon as the soil temperature warms up. Temperatures above 60 degrees F are needed for germination.
  • Plant kernels in rich soil in a well-drained location. Use grass clippings or straw to mulch around the base of emerging stalks. Seeds should be planted at a depth of 1/2 to 1 inch deep and initially spaced 4 to 6 inches apart. When seedlings emerge, thin to 8 to 12 inches apart. Water in well. Continue to water deeply throughout the season, especially during ear production.
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  • Corn is pollinated by wind. To aid in cross pollination, plant corn in dense blocks consisting of at least 4 rows that are each 4 feet long (rows spaced 24 inches apart).
  • Corn varieties all cross pollinate readily with one another. Plant different varieties that you don't want to cross pollinate (such as sweet corn) two weeks apart, or spaced a minimum of 100 feet apart preferably, on opposite sides of the garden.
  • Harvest your corn in the fall until the husks have lost all their green. The kernels should be firm to the touch and dry. Pop husks off the stalk and hang the cobs up to air dry for a week or so after shucking.

Growing and Harvesting Indian Corn

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at

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October 9, 20130 found this helpful

I did everything you said to do, but when I picked it the ears were not filled out and the corn was not colored. What happened?

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October 9, 20160 found this helpful

That happened to me a bit this year. I got several filled out ears but many that weren't. I takes time for the color to come out, and if you pick too soon, the kernels may appear white. I tried hand-pollination - taking tassels and "dusting" the pollen onto the silks.


(You can do a google search of "corn hand pollination" to find out more.) I think it did help with some ears, but I still had several ears that weren't completely filled out. I may have to plant earlier next year to give the corn more time to mature. We'll see!

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