Corn in a Container

It seems like people are growing everything in containers today. From tomatoes to carrots, zucchini to lettuce, containers are the new craze in vegetable gardening.

While I don’t grow vegetables in containers, I do a lot of container gardening – mostly flowers and some herbs. But recently I’ve been reading about people growing corn in containers. There are even special varieties of corn that are smaller and better adapted to container growing. I really doubted that this would work, the main reason being that corn is wind-pollinated. It’s recommended that when you grow corn in the garden, you grow it in blocks of at least 3-4 rows instead of one long row so that the ears can be fully pollinated. I wasn’t sure how a few plants in a pot would be able to pollinate each other.

While I had my doubts about container grown corn, I decided to give it a try. I used a large storage tub filled with potting mix to grow the corn. The seeds germinated well and the plants looked pretty good. But I recently noticed that there’s a problem with my container corn. The plants are tasseling but there aren’t any ears present with silk to receive the pollen from the tassels.

So what’s the deal?

Container Corn

Container Corn

I think I know the problem. While I’ve been careful to keep the corn well watered, corn needs a lot of water. In a container, it’s easy for a plant to become drought stressed. For many plants, some drought stress isn’t a big deal – water them and they come right back. But when corn is stressed, the plants go into survival mode. The goal of all plants is to spread their genes around and make sure that the species survives. A stressed corn plant stops the development of the ears and focuses on making pollen. The “thinking” of the plant is that while it might not be able to set seed, at least it can spread its genes by making pollen.

In a large field this might not be a problem – when the stress is removed and the ears develop, there’s likely to be some plants that are tasseling. But in my container of isolated corn plants, tassels without ears means that there won’t be any corn to harvest.

Maybe some people can get corn to grow in a container but I don’t think I’m one of them. You probably have to be much more careful about watering than I am. I’ll stick with flowers and herbs in the containers – they’re a lot less finicky – and I’ll keep the corn in the garden!

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