By Jackie Carroll
Most of us love to eat it but did you know that in addition to buying it from the store, you can actually enjoy growing popcorn in the garden? Popcorn is not only a fun and tasty crop to grow in the garden, but it will also store for several months after harvesting. Keep reading to learn more about popcorn plant info and how to grow popcorn in your own garden.
Popcorn Plant Info
Popcorn (Zea mays var. everta) is a Native American plant grown for its tasty, exploding kernels. The two types of popcorn that are grown are pearl and rice. Pearl popcorn has round kernels, while rice popcorn kernels are elongated.
Growing popcorn and sweet corn in the same garden produces disappointing results because of cross pollination. Cross pollination yields popcorn with a high percentage of unpopped kernels and poor quality sweet corn. Popcorn matures 100 days or so after planting. Each ear yields one serving of popcorn, and each plant produces one or two ears.
So where can you find popcorn plants? Popcorn doesn’t transplant well, so it is mostly grown from seeds planted directly in the garden. There are numerous seed varieties to choose from and most garden centers carry them. You can also order popcorn from reputable seed companies, and your local extension office can offer advice on those that perform well in your area.
Popcorn Growing Conditions
Popcorn needs full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Work a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost into the soil before planting, and spread 1 ½ pounds of 16-16-8 fertilizer over the soil, watering it in thoroughly. Choose a location with access to irrigation because just like other corn plants, they need plenty of water during the growing season.
Grow popcorn plants in groups to ensure good pollination and well-filled ears. A single plant produces ears with few or no kernels and a few plants produce ears that are poorly filled out. Most home gardeners grow popcorn in several short rows.
How to Grow Popcorn
Plant popcorn when all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm. Sow the seeds 1 to 2 inches deep and space them 8 to 10 inches apart. Rather than planting them in one or two long rows, create a series of short rows spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. The plant density assures good pollination.
Drought stress seriously impacts the quality of the harvest, so keep the soil moist at all times. Popcorn needs 1 ½ to 2 inches of water per week from either rain or irrigation.
Popcorn needs an abundance of nitrogen during the growing season. When the plants have 8 to 10 leaves, you should side-dress with ½ pound of high-nitrogen fertilizer per 100 square feet. Spread the fertilizer down the sides of the rows and water it in. Side-dress again with ¼ pound of fertilizer once the ears form silk.
Weeds compete with popcorn for nutrients and moisture. Cultivate the soil around the plants regularly to eliminate weeds. Take care not to damage the roots or pull the soil away from the plants while cultivating.
Harvest popcorn when the husks are completely dry and the kernels are hard. Remove the husks after harvest and hang the ears in mesh bags in a well-ventilated area. After removing the kernels from the ears, store them in air-tight containers at room temperature.
Now that you know more about popcorn growing conditions, you can begin growing popcorn in your garden for continued enjoyment of this tasty treat.