When it comes to gardening questions, I tend to get texts, emails, and phone calls from friends and family several times a week, especially during the height of the growing season. I thought about this a bit while I was visiting family over the 4th, and realized that there are a lot of conflicting answers to be found on the interwebs, but not a lot of reasons as to why. By no means am I saying that my way is always the right way, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to share what I’ve researched and what works for me. (And maybe it will even work for you!)
About a week ago, a friend texted me with a photo of his corn, asking if he should cut the tops of it off like his housekeeper advised. No offense to your housekeeper, friend, but unless you just want tall plants and little to no edible corn, please don’t do this!
Cutting the tops off of corn stalks, or “detasseling”, is often common practice in large fields of corn to create hybridized varieties (and to prevent cross-pollination between different types.) However, these farmers also leave the tassels on select stalks every few rows to ensure proper pollination of the silks. (The top part of the corn stalk, or tassel, is the male portion of the plant, and the lower parts, or silks, are actually the female parts of the plant: individual threads connected within the ears that will each form the delicious kernels you will be slathering in butter later in the summer.) Without the tassel to pollinate the silks, your chances of getting nice, big, grillable ears of corn are extremely low.
Because my garden doesn’t really have the space for a massive self-pollinating corn field, I planted six plants in a block, hoping that they will pollinate themselves within this space. I also tend to hand pollinate (when I’m out there watering and weeding) by brushing some of the pollen into my hand and then dusting it into the silks, making sure at least some of it catches.
If you want to grow corn, find a nice sunny corner of your garden to plant it. Be sure to keep the area mostly weed free, and give it at least an inch of water a week. (I have no idea what that means actually. I just remember reading it. In real life, I soak them 1-2 times a week at least six inches deep, depending on the temperature outside and whether or not the pole beans growing up them look droopy.) It’s also a good idea to plant them in very fertile soil that has been amended with compost, or supplement a natural food throughout the growing season. (I switch between sprinkles of Dr. Earth maybe every month or so and a thin layer of Bumper Crop Soil Builder halfway through the summer. Again, finished compost would work just as well.) Good luck!