Starting corn indoors?

gaetanol(z6NY)March 31, 2008

This is my first year trying corn in my garden. I believe I have a nice spot for it (full sun). I am in zone 6 (a northern suburb of New York City). I wasn't sure if there would be any advantage to starting the seed indoors. If so, how many weeks before transplanting should I start?

Any thouhgts on this are appreciated.



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Although many people will disagree with me on this one, there are MANY advantages to starting corn indoors or in a greenhouse and later transplanting. Among these are: 1) Much better germination, specially of Sh2 varieties, because you can create a warm environment (ideal soil temp is 75-77 degrees). Outdoors, in cool soil, many corn varieties have germination issues and are prone to rot. 2) Much safer from scavengers and herbivores like crows, doves, deer, mice, squirrels, coons, etc., all of which will eat corn seed and young, germinating corn plants. 3) Transplants allow you to have a nice, uniform, solid stand of corn, whereas, if you direct sow in the garden, some of your seeds will not germinate, resulting in "skips" in the row. When you fill in, these fill in plants will be behind the rest of the crop, and may not do as well. 4) In more northern areas, transplanting allows you to get a crop quicker, since you can grow the plants indoors in warmer conditions and avoid some of the early, cool weather -- you aren't as much at the mercy of the weather.

I've done corn both ways, and, other than the fact it's more work than just direct sowing in terms of the care involved, I would have to say that I far prefer starting corn as transplants. The advantages far outway the disadvantages.

Corn actually transplants reasonably well when young, but it's still best to use either smallish cells, which will fill rapidly with roots, resulting in a nice, solid rootball, or, something like a paper dixie cup or peat pot which can be planted directly in the ground and will rot away.

Depending upon how warm and bright your growing area is, it will take 3 to 4 weeks from sowing to transplant. Be sure to give them as much light as possible -- I would start them about 6 inches under bright florescent lights. And, be sure to acclimate them well to outdoor conditions before transplanting. Ideally, the plants should be about 6 inches tall and well rooted when you plant them out. I personally plan on planting them out about 2 to 3 weeks AFTER my average last frost date, to ensure that the weather and soil are nicely warmed.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 10:52PM
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I was going to disagree with you but then I remember that everyone says you should start tomatoes indoors and not direct seeding, yet I always direct seed them. So I guess if it works for you then do it.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 11:50PM
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I start mine in little pots I make from newspaper, but I start them outside in mini-greenhouses by the winter-sowing method - only later, usually in late April or early May. Up here in the great northwest, our soil stays too cool and wet in the spring to ensure good germination early enough to get a crop before the cool, wet days of fall. The paper pots go right into the ground when the plants are 3 to 4 inches tall so the roots aren't disturbed.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 3:50AM
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ruthieg__tx(z8 TX)

If I lived in a more northern state I might ...but truthfully I just don't know why anyone would when corn will start germinating like overnight...

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 10:18AM
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Hmmm... maybe I will try it this year. My corn got off to a really slow start last year but I've always heard not too transplant corn. 3 weeks ahead or so you said? So I could use my small cell trays after transplanting out lettuce and beets and the timing would work out pretty well. I guess it can't hurt to experiment, huh?

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 10:27AM
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You can start corn indoors, just be careful with the root system when transplanting it to the garden. If possible, transplant it on a cloudy day or in the evening and then give it a good watering and it should do fine.

Here is a link that might be useful: Find out how you can win 50 dollars of seed!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 11:10AM
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zachslc(6 Salt Lake City)

I always start some indoors then direct seed in two week intervals or so. I always get the first corn from the seeds started indoors around April 15.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 1:13AM
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Thanks for all replies.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 2:01PM
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In the past I have always direct seeded corn. If I had all the room to grow all the things I want I would continue direct seeding. But my space is very limited and corn takes space and also uses that space for a longer period of the season than I like. If fresh corn from the garden wasn't such a treat I would strike it off the grow list.

So this year I'm trying something new. As denninmi pointed out there are a lot of advantages to starting indoors. And I hope to hold the corn in containers longer to minimize the time the corn will take up garden space.

To container grow corn for the first six weeks will require a larger pot. Which would add to the expense if a standard peat based potting mix was used for the growing medium. So I am going to use garden soil with a bit of sand and vermiculite added for drainage. The loose nature of of a mix not based on peat leads to a problem of transplanting the corn without damage to the roots and causing a check in growth because the soil mass falls apart when removed from the pot unless it is rather root bound. Neither of which would be good for the corn.

I hope the answer is in using bottomless pipe pots. With these the plant and pot are set in the ground and dirt pulled back around the pot before the pot is pulled up over the plant. The loose pot soil is then supported by the garden soil and the roots have almost zero disturbance.

My first trial of pipe pots was with lettuce. I transplanted a few days ago and noted no shock or check to plant growth. I seeded some corn indoors on March 28 and moved the pots outside on the the 31th.

Here they are on April 1.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 8:06AM
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Pls8xx - what are the screws for? and what size pipe did you use. This looks interesting

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 10:01PM
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I started my corn crops last year in the greenhouse and had the best crop I had ever grown. We have a chipmunk community on our property and I would check my garden at night and the rows were full and perfect like soldiers in formation and the next morning when I'd hit the garden, the plants were all pulled out of the soil and laying with their roots exposed. I found that what the rodents were after was the kernel still attached to the plant. So, I started them in cells in flats I could cover with domes to keep the rodents out for the first few weeks.

They transplanted very, very well! The root systems were awesome, and there was no problem the whole season with stalks tipping over. By transplanting the plant into the garden, instead of sowing seed, the spacing was very even, since I didn't have any empty spots from lack of germination, and I also didn't have a whole stack of baby corn plants in one spot where rain had washed the seed.

In fact, since I own a range of commercial g'houses, I start almost ALL of my vegetables inside. It allows me to get my plants to a good size so that when I am over the rush right before mother's day (just when it's past the last expected killing frost date in my area), the plants can be set out en masse, watered in and not dependent on the flukes of the weather when they are at their most vulnerable seedling stage. I have also found the larger plants are less attractive to things like rabbits and chipmunks.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 2:41AM
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david, the pots are made from 4 inch light weight pvc and the screws are there so a planting handle can pull the pot up with one hand after soil has been backfilled around the pot. Even with a very loose potting mix there is almost zero disturbance to the roots.

Here is a shot showing the two slots cut in the handle that latch onto the screws.

After the plant is set in the hole the bottom point of the handle is set between the two screws as shown below.

The handle is forced down which spreads the pot open and loosens the pot from the soil inside. The two screws catch in the handle slots and lock the pot to the handle.

More soil is raked in around the pot as the handle is used to pull it out.

In the photo below I've dug a trench to the right depth and I'm planting lettuce. The bottomless pots are moved from the flat surface where they grew with a scoop I made.

The lettuce never knew it had been transplanted.

1 Like    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 12:58PM
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Pls8xx - You are so clever.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 10:14PM
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sinfonian(U8b A2 S5 SeaWA)

And have WAY too much time on your hands, hehe. Such an amazing system. Someday I may be where you are. For now I'm just killing seedlings inside due to the lack of a lighting system and planting indoor seedlings AS soon as they germinate.

Thanks for a great thread!

Here is a link that might be useful: Sinfonian's garden adventure!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 1:07AM
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choosing the variety of corn you are going to grow can make a big difference in when your corn ripens, i have been starting a few of my favorite early corn inside,(aladdin) it sure germinates well and gives us those first yummie cobs, our main crop we plant 2 weeks apart direct in the soil, i would suggest you try both methods.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 10:19PM
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Thank you for the kind words, soonergrandmom.

And sinfonian, my wife has often said I should do less thinking and more doing of the things that need done. My job jar runth over.

Pipe pots will never replace direct sown corn for those with the space for a nice plot. But for the backyard grower that wants a long succession of small amounts for that fresh off the stalk flavor, they might just be the answer.

Head lettuce is hard to do in Arkansas; the summer heat comes too soon. The use of pipe pots may just get me there this year. It's rained 10 inches the last two weeks and been cool and cloudy. Still the lettuce has put on some growth.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2008 at 11:04AM
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OK, for my first year starting my corn indoors, I've decided to use peat pots. I set up my florescent bulb over my fridge. 14 out of 20 pots germinated so far, so I'm feeling pretty good.

Anyway, what is the proper amount of light to give ther seedlings? Other than higher electrical bills, is there any disadvantage to the plant if I leave the light on 24X7? Is there some benefit to a period of darkness? If I give more light indoors, will the plants have a harder time adjusting to outdoors, where they will not get 24 hours of light?


    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 6:35AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Pls8xx, that is an ingenious system. It cost a bit in terms of the initial expenditure of time & money, but should last for a long time.

Re-reading this thread, there was one good reason for using corn transplants that was never mentioned - seed saving. Saving open-pollinated corn seed is difficult, because corn pollen is wind-borne, and can travel long distances. Large agricultural plantings (most of which are now genetically modified) can contaminate all surrounding corn for miles under windy conditions. To keep an heirloom corn pure, you have only two options: (1) bag the ears & tassels, and hand pollinate, or (2) arrange it so your corn blooms earlier than any other corn around you.

Make no mistake, either option would still be a lot of work... but with the use of early transplants, no hand pollination would be necessary. Provided that the resulting seed is refrigerated in a sealed container, you would only need to save seed every 5 years or so.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 10:46PM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

Wow, great thread, I'm convinced. I'll be making some pipe pots this winter, and starting at least some of my corn early this way. I think this will do well for cucurbits too.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 5:44AM
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Pls8xx, zeedman is right "that is an ingenious system"! I have some left over pvc pieces that I have moved at least a dozen times and have wracked my brain to come up with a way to use them in the garden. I think I even have a bracket and some screws around here somewhere. What a great project for this winter!!! Thanks!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 2:17PM
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I'm waiting to hear the answer to the optimum number of hours of flourescent light for indoor corn seedlings... anyone? Also, thanks for everyone's encouragement... I thought I was nuts for even considering starting corn indoors. Now if I can just stop myself from starting it too early.... (wrestling with myself)

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 11:05PM
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I have started some corn plants by a similar method indoor by using sonotubing. They look good so far but I am also wondering how much light to give them each day and if a period of darkness is required for its health. Thanks for the idea I know corn does not like being transplanted so this is genius.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 1:07PM
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This is my first year expermenting with lights and seeds. I couldn't wait ,so after we finished our desert of honeydew melon , I grab up all the seeds a put them in a ziplock bag with a damp paper towel. After dealing with the comments from my wife,(ex.- what might you be doing now?) I left the bag seeds side up on our kitchen table ,and behold germination. I planted the seeds in a a.p.s. 24 and put them under a grow light set to turn on at 5:00 am and of at 10:00pm. The instructions said that the plants need a 7 hour break. The plants are now in cow pots in natural sunlight,and about 4" tall. I know, I started to early , but I guess that I'll have a few St. Paddy's plants to give away.I hope this was helpful. Good Luack.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2011 at 5:30PM
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I started 4 pots of corn indoors today and found this thread because I wasn't sure if I was being crazy doing this or not... LoL! But, it's only 4 seeds, so it won't hurt to try. I am planning my first small backyard garden this year and am very excited. I've already started quite a few seeds inside and they all seem to be doing very well so far. Good luck to everyone with their gardens this year!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 1:02PM
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I have used an old camping cooler to start corn. It's just the right size for a 10 1/2" X 21" starting tray. I put a metal 6" mesh hanging an inch below the top of the cooler to hold the tray. That tray holds eight smaller plant trays with four pockets in each to start a total of 40 plants. I use a clear plastic lid made to cover the large tray. At the bottom of the cooler I put a trouble light with a 60 watt bulb. I use two-way thermometer inside the cooler to monitor the temperature. Temps range from 80 F to 110 F. The tray is a bit smaller than the cooler which allows you to use an old towel to cover the gap as much as you need to adjust heat loss. I use one seed per pocket as gerination is at or near 100%. The corn will stick their noses out in about a week. I've learned to not leave the plastic cover on too long as lack of air circulation can cause dampening off. I now take that lid off as soon as all noses appear. Put the tray inside in a bright window and you're ready to start the next tray. I start these outside on a covered patio. The tap root will grow through the drain hole in the plastic tray but will pull through without damage when transplanting.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 7:44PM
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I could agree starting corn indoor will give you more germ rates and maybe a bit higher harvest. It may not be worth the work though...

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 11:45AM
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I start mine indoors in peat pots, but I make very sure to peel the pots off before I put them into the ground. I've found peat pot pieces still in the ground a year later, so I don't think very much of the notion that plants grow through them. In my experience, they rootbind in buried peat pots just as if you had planted them in plastic.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 2:46PM
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