Corn Varieties: Best Bets and Easy-to-Grow

Corn on cobThere is no substitute for the flavor of corn just picked from the garden.

Flavor and adaptability to your garden’s climate are the major considerations when choosing a corn variety. There are three types of fresh-eating sweet corn grouped by flavor: standard corn, sugary enhanced corn, and supersweet corn (adaptability to your garden’s climate–the soil and air temperature–is actually linked to the flavor type). Here’s how these corn types differ:

Standard corn is the “old-fashioned” corn your grandfather grew; the corn with tasty corn flavor. These varieties–many are heirlooms and open-pollinated–have been around for years and years. Standard corn is plantable in cool soil, as cool as 55°F. This corn is best rushed to the kitchen and eaten within an hour of harvest.

Sugary enhanced corn are hybrid varieties that keep their sweet flavor up to 3 days after harvest. Sugary enhanced hybrids give growers a 3-day window for harvest. (Near harvest time it is important to monitor standard corn each day to make sure you pick at the peak of its sweet flavor.) Sugary enhanced cultivars don’t require daily monitoring; pick sugary enhanced corn anytime within the 3 day peak flavor period. This type of corn demands soil temperatures about 10° warmer than standard corn.

Supersweet corn are also hybrid varieties–the sweetest flavored of all corn. Supersweet corn varieties are sweeter than sugary enhanced varieties. Supersweets also have an enhanced harvest window of 2 to 3 days. One note, supersweet corn can be demanding: it requires soil no less than 65°F at planting time; it grows best when the soil is pre-warmed (cover beds with black plastic to warm the soil); and it is less vigorous than standard or sugary enhanced corn.

In addition to the best bets of these three types, also listed here are recommendations for popping, baby corn, and ornamental corn. Keep reading to the bottom of this post and I will give you my tips for sure-fired corn growing success.

Standard corn varieties:

Butter and Sugar. 73 days. Bicolor white and yellow kernels, good flavor; 7 to 8 inch ears. Resists bacterial wilt and southern corn leaf blight.

Golden Cross Bantam. 85 days. Large yellow kernels. Uniform ears 7½ to 8 inches long with 10 to 14 rows per ear. Sturdy stalk to 6 feet; very prolific. Resists bacterial wilt.

Jubilee. 83 days. Sweet, tender, yellow kernels for fresh eating or processing. Large ears, 8 to 9 inches long with 16 rows. Strong sturdy stalks from 7 to 7½ feet. Resists smog and smut.

Silver Queen. 88 days. Very sweet, tender, snow white kernels; ears 8 to 9 inches long with 14 to16 rows. Holds for several days without losing quality. Stalk grows 7½ to 8 feet tall. Widely adapted. Resists bacterial wilt and Stewart’s wilt.

Sugary enhanced corn varieties:

Breeder’s Choice. 73 days. Extra sweet, tender, creamy, light yellow kernels. Stays sweet for 10 to 14 days after reaching maturity. Most stalks bear two ears, 16 to 18 full rows. Plant to 7 feet.

Concord (Also called Moore’s Early Concord). Tender, sweet, bicolor kernels. Ears 6 to 8 inches long with 12 to 16 rows. Stalks to 5 feet. Early harvest.

How Sweet It Is. 87 days. Sweet, tender, crisp, white kernels. Flavor hold well on stalks and in storage. Slightly tapered ears to 8 inches long with 18 to 22 rows of kernels. Stalks to 6½ feet tall, produce 2 ears per stalk. Widely adapted. All-America selection; resists most diseases.

Kandy Korn. 89 days. Sweet, tender, golden yellow kernels. Excellent for freezing and canning. Uniform ears to 8 inches long with 16 to 18 rows. Stalks 8 to 9 feet tall. Adapts to wide range of climates.

Supersweet corn varieties:

Early Xtra Sweet. 71 days. Extra sweet golden yellow kernels, small and tender. Uniform ears, 7 to 9 inches long with 12 to 16 rows of kernels. Vigorous plant, 5 to 6 feet tall. Ready 2 weeks earlier than Illini Xtra-Sweet. All-America selection; resists most diseases.

Butterfruit Original Early. 72 days. Bright yellow kernels, savory flavor; tightly packed ears. Plant to 5 feet tall. Mature extra early.

Sweetie. 82 days. Exceptionally sweet, tender-crisp, deep golden yellow kernels. Slightly tapered ears 7 to 8 inches long with 14 to 18 rows of kernels. Stalks to 6 feet. Retains sweetness for a long period, both in the field and when harvested. 30 percent fewer calories than regular corn. Excellent for home gardens.

Illini Xtra Sweet. 85 days. Sweet, golden yellow kernels; 14 to 18 rows per ear. Plant to 6½ feet. Freezes well.

Super-sweet Jubilee. 85 days. Super sweet, yellow kernels, 18 rows per ear. Plants to 8 feet. High yield.

Baby corn varieties:

Baby Asian. Finger-size cobs with white kernels. Tender and delicately flavored. Use in stir fries, vegetable salads and pickles. Harvest shortly after silks appear.

Popcorn varieties:

Black Popcorn. 100 days. Deep blue to black kernels that pop white with a blue tinge at base; rich flavor. Larger ears and kernels than standard popcorn.

Gold Hybrid Popcorn. 105 days. Excellent quality popping corn; pops large.

Peppy Hybrid. 90 days. Kernels pop large and tender. Small ears to 4 inches long. Stalks grow 5 to 6 feet tall; high yielding, 2 or 3 ears per stalk.

White Cloud. 95 days. Tender, fluffy white, hull less popping corn with excellent flavor. Small plump ears to about 4 inches long, well-filled. High yield. Grows well in cooler regions.

Ornamental corn varieties:

Indian Corn. 100-110 days. Large, decorative ears: 7 to 9 inches long, kernels of red, purple, orange, yellow, white, and blue. Strong stalks.

Indian Fingers. 110 days. Multicolored kernels: yellow, red, purple, orange kernels; cobs to 4 inches long; stalks from 6 to 7 feet.

Rainbow. 90-112 days. Multicolored kernels. Indian corn. Large, smooth ears. Use for fall decorations, roasting or frying when young .Open pollinated.

Strawberry Popcorn. 105 days. Cobs 2 to 3 inches long with ruby kernels resemble strawberries; plants grow to 4 feet tall. For popping or decoration. Kernels turn white when popped.

Corn Growing Success Tips:

Corn growing success will come with a few simple growing strategies:

Planting bed preparation. Choose a site with full sun. Choose a bed or site where corn can be planted on 2 to 3 foot squares or blocks. Planting in a block pattern will maximize pollination: corn is pollinated commonly by wind as the pollen falls from the male tassels to the female silks. Even and close proximity of stalks will enhance the opportunity for pollination.

Plant corn on small hills or in raised beds; corn prefers well-drained soil that warms quickly. In flat beds, turn the soil to 6 inches deep. Add plenty of aged compost to the planting area and dust with nitrogen-rich cottonseed meal or soybean meal (3 pounds per 100 square feet).

Planting time. Sow corn or set out small starts when the soil has warmed to at least 65°F, usually two to three weeks after the last frost in spring. Black plastic can be used to cover the soil in advance and prewarm the bed.

Care. Corn is a member of the grass family; it requires regular even moisture. Give corn 1to 2 inches of water each week. Place drip irrigation or a soaker hose near the base of stalks and cover with straw mulch to help keep the soil evenly moist. Side dress corn with aged compost every 3 to 4 weeks during the growing season.

Pest protection. Cover seeded beds with row covers to exclude birds, caterpillars, and beetles early on. Handpick caterpillars and beetles that attack mature plants. Apply 5 drops of vegetable oil to the silks on each ear as the silks begin to brown; this will turn away earworms.

Pollination. When tassels appear on the ears, gently shake stalks each day so that pollen will fall to the silks. Differing corn varieties planted in close proximity will likely result in cross-pollination. To avoid cross pollination sow different varieties at least 25 feet apart or time planting so that differing varieties are not flowering at the same time.

Harvest. Begin picking ears 3 weeks after the first silks appeared on stalks. When silks turn brown, check ears to make sure they are filled and begin picking. You can also squeeze a kernel with your fingernail: if white milky juice drips out, the ear is ripe. Popcorn should be left on the plant until the husks have fully dried.