Sweet corn fresh from the garden is one of the delights of gardening. Unfortunately, you're not the only one waiting for the sweet corn; the competition begins as soon as the corn seedlings pop from the soil. Late frosts can be dealt with by keeping an eye on the weather and covering the seedlings with plastic, hay or extra mulch. Pests and insects take a bit more planning.
Construct a mesh fence 3 feet high and buried 1 foot deep around the corn plot to keep rabbits away. Rabbits can squeeze through small holes, so mesh with holes wider than a half-inch won't work well. Bending the top 4 inches of the fence outward makes it difficult for squirrels and bunnies to climb up and over the fence, although they will try.
Lay additional mesh over the freshly planted corn seed to stop mice and squirrels from digging it up.
Place traps for mice, rabbits and squirrels baited with fruit and/or peanut butter around the corn. There are no-kill traps made with glue that hold any animal caught, but the problem remains of what to do with the critter once it's caught.
Sprinkle commercial rabbit/mice deterrent around the rows of corn before they sprout.
Net the top of the fencing to keep birds out, or tie string across the corn plot at 3-foot intervals. Hang strips of aluminum foil from the string. The movement of the foil in the breeze and the sun glinting off it scares birds away. Strips of Christmas tree garland may be used instead of the foil.
Make a mixture of hot red pepper flakes, soap and water. Let it stand for a day, then strain and spray on the plants. Critters don't like the taste of the hot peppers. Make sure to reapply the mixture every time the corn is watered or it rains.
Use corn seed treated with insecticides and fungicides.
Place saucers of beer for slugs to fall into and drown. They are attracted to the smell of beer. Use commercial slug bait as an alternative.
Cut plastic 2-liter soda bottles in half vertically and place the halves horizontally over the corn rows or the individual plants.
Cut the top one-third off an 8- or 12-ounce soda bottle and place upside down over the seedling, pushing the rim of the bottle about a half-inch into the soil. This method also protects seedlings from a late frost.
Check plants twice a day for pests and remove manually or with a strong spray of water from the hose.