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Corn & Popcorn Growing

How to Grow and Harvest Corn and Popcorn

Maize and corn have been a staple food source for thousands of years because they are easy to grow and offer solid nutritional benefits giving us starch, important minerals, vitamins, fibre and antioxidants. Corn and Popcorn are very easy to grow and although not native to Africa, they are very well adapted to conditions in South Africa.

There are various types and sub types of corn and popcorn for the South African home gardener. 

The following options are available

  • Sweetcorn - harvested immaturely and containing high sugar. Eaten fresh on and off cob
  • Popcorn - typically a tough outer shell encasing a small pocket of soft starch content which expands explosively when heated
  • Flour corn - soft kernelled varieties with easily ground starch content - dried and ground into powder (flour), these also work well eaten fresh straight off the braai or from the pot.
  • Pod Corn - Ornamental corn

All varieties come in different classifications and, in turn, there are a myriad of types to suit everyone's' needs and tastes.


Soil Preparation and feeding for Corn and Popcorn

Corn and popcorn do not require good rich soil but grow more successfully if given a few basic requirements.  Plant in full sun, preferably in fairly deep soil as the roots are profuse and fibrous up to 2m deep.  Ideal seasonal rainfall to grow in is between 300mm and 450mm.  

Soil supplements can be added to improve growth and production.  Bonemeal provides nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) at an approximate ratio of 2:5:1. Chicken manure and composted manure also provide soil with all three (N, P, K) essential elements.

There is no need for support when planting maize varieties as the plant has evolved to grow its own support in the form of adventitious roots below the surface as well as a very erect and strong stem


Planting times for Corn and Popcorn in South Africa

Sweet Corn:                 Aug to Dec, however provided your soil and feeding is very good up to mid Jan

Popcorn:                      Aug – Dec (see above for extending the season)

Flour Corn:                  Aug - Dec

Pod Corn:                    Aug - Dec


Please note:  Planting times supplied are in a general South African sense and are based on typical South African Highveld conditions. Your particular area of South Africa might vary, for instance if you live in Tzaneen you have summer all year long and can grow summer crops January to December!


Sun exposure:

Full sun


Seed Planting and Germination

Sow seeds directly into soil after last frost. Maize does not like being transplanted and it is not recommended that you start seeds indoors before the start of the planting season, although some gardeners have a degree of success with such.

Corn kernels germinate at between 15 and 29 degrees Celsius.  At lower temperatures germination will be poor and delayed.

Corn and popcorn seed germination takes approximately 7 to 10 days.


Corn & Popcorn Plant Spacing

All corn:                       15 - 20 centimetres apart in rows 40 to 50 cm apart

Note:  When your soil is very rich and you have enough water corn can be spaced very closely.

Plant Corn in blocks, this aides wind pollination for properly formed ears.


Days to harvest

Sweet Corn:                 60 - 100 days

Popcorn:                      85 - 100 days

Flour Corn:                  85 - 100 days

Pod Corn:                    85 - 100 day


  • Days to harvest is based on typical good growing conditions and can sometimes vary depending on climate, state of soil, and in some instances length of day and climate for the area in South Africa where you reside.
  • The specific plant might have characteristic/s that fall outside of the typical type norm.
  • Days to harvest is counted from germination or seedling transplant date whichever is the latest.



Sweetcorn should be harvested when immature.  Cobs should have grown to full length but outer leaves should be soft and green.  

Popcorn, flour corn and pod corn can be harvested once cobs have matured before drying starts for roasting or left to dry fully on the plant.  Harvest can be after plant has started to die


Click to view which Corn & Popcorn Seeds are available to you now