How to Grow Better Sweet Corn in Poor Soil


Sweet corn raised in your backyard garden tastes much better fresh than corn bought in a grocery store, according to the University of Illinois. Corn plants are relatively low maintenance and can be raised even in less than optimal soil conditions. Gardeners can take several management approaches to improve poor soil conditions in order to grow a more successful and bountiful corn crop.

Step 1

Wait for the soil temperature to reach a minimum of 60 degrees F before planting. Even corn planted in the best soil won't grow well if it's colder than this. The optimal soil temperature ranges from 60 degrees to 80 degrees F, according to the University of Rhode Island.

Step 2

Test the soil's pH levels using a soil testing kit. Sweet corn grows best when the soil pH ranges between 6.0 and 6.5, according to Purdue University. The pH can be raised with products like agricultural lime and lowered with ammonium sulphate or urea phosphate. The exact amount of amendment needed varies according to the level of adjustment required. Consult your regional cooperative extension office for further guidance on accepted pH amendments in your region.

Step 3

Break up the soil into fine clumps to a depth of 6 inches, according to Purdue University. Mix in 3 to 4 inches of aged compost. Sweet corn thrives in loose soil that's rich in organic matter, and compost can help improve the condition of poor soil conditions like clay- and sand-based dirt.

Step 4

Fertilize the planting area. This helps overcome any nutritional deficiencies in your poor soil and can boost the vigor and fruit production of the sweet corn. The University of Rhode Island suggests using a 6-24-24 or 12-12-12 fertilizer, applied at a rate of 10 lbs. for every 500 square feet of gardening space.

Step 5

Plant the corn at its proper depth and spacing. This provides the corn with adequate room to grow and develop properly. Bury each corn seed approximately 1 inch deep and space each seed apart by 1 foot, according to the University of Illinois. If growing more than one row of corn, separate each row by 3 feet.

Step 6

Water the corn. Corn needs approximately 1.5 inches of water weekly, according to Purdue University. Watch the plants for signs of drought stress, including wilting or yellowing of the foliage. Poor sandy soils may need more frequent watering due to increased water loss through evaporation and excessive drainage.

Things You'll Need

  • Soil test kit
  • pH soil amendments
  • Spade
  • Aged compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Corn seeds
  • Fertilizer


  • "Burpee: The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener"; Karan Cutler, et al.; 1997
  • Purdue University: Growing Sweet Corn
  • University of Illinois: Corn
  • University of Rhode Island: Sweet Corn

Who Can Help

  • National Corn Growers Association
  • USDA: Find a Cooperative Extension Office
Keywords: grow sweet corn, corn soil requirements, improve corn soil

About this Author

Josh Duvauchelle is an editor and journalist with more than 10 years' experience. His work has appeared in various magazines, including "Honolulu Magazine," which has more paid subscribers than any other magazine in Hawaii. He graduated with honors from Trinity Western University, holding a Bachelor of Arts in professional communications, and earned a certificate in applied leadership and public affairs from the Laurentian Leadership Centre.