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Corn bears male flowers (tassel) on top and female flowers (silks) below. Pollen has to move from the male flowers to the female ones. Source: passel.unl.edu

Sweet corn or maize (Zea mays saccharata) is essentially the only vegetable pollinized by wind. And for that reason, it should planted in groups so that pollen from the male flowers (in the tassel above the plant) will readily fall on the female flowers below (the silk at the end of each ear of corn). If pollination is poor, the cobs will be deformed with only sporadic kernels.

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Corn is usually grown in blocks to ensure good pollination. Source: samwarren55.wordpress.com

Farmers easily solve this problem with massive monocultures: row upon endless row of corn. In the home garden, corn is typically planted in “blocks” (several tight rows forming a square or rectangle) rather than a single row, where pollination might be spotty. However, such a concentration of corn plants tends to attract corn ear worm and other corn insects, not to mention raccoons. That’s why you might want to consider the method Native Americans used: sowing 4-6 seeds together in a tight circle (called a “hill”, although it isn’t necessarily mounded up).

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Corn grown in hills as per the Amerindian three-sisters method (along with beans and squash). Source : www.thesurvivalgardener.com

The latter technique makes for an attractive effect (corn can be as beautiful as any ornamental grass when grown this way) and allows you to scatter hills of corn here and there throughout your yard, not just in the vegetable patch, but among your flower beds as well, thus avoiding the risks inherent in monocultures. And 4 to 6 plants growing together will ensure good pollination for all the ears.

An ornamental appearance, abundant, productive ears, and good eating: what more could you ask of corn?20180617A passel.unl.edu

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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