Zea mays

Common Name: corn 
Type: Annual
Family: Poaceae
Native Range: Mexico
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 4.00 to 5.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: Flowers not showy
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Annual, Vegetable
Flower: Insignificant
Fruit: Edible
Tolerate: Black Walnut


Corn is a warm weather crop and should not be planted until the soil warms up to 60° F. It is one of the taller home garden crops, so locate it where it will not shade out other crops. Plant in full sun, in fertile, well-drained soil. Several rules apply to insure an adequate corn crop: 1. Corn is wind pollinated, and to insure adequate pollination, sow seeds in several rows to form a square, or on hills with several plants in a circle. A minimum of 12 or more plants is usually necessary. Do not plant in one long row. 2. Corn is a heavy feeder and must have ample nitrogen and water at all times, but water the soil, not the plant or pollination could suffer. 3. Corn roots do not tolerate disturbance well, so when thinning corn, cut the excess sprouts instead of pulling them. Do the same with nearby weeds and after corn is established mulch to reduce weeds rather than cultivating around their roots and damaging them. 4. Some sweet corns can be adversely affected by cross pollination from other corn varieties, so follow cultivar label directions precisely to avoid pollen contamination from other corn. 5. Time of harvest is important for some sweet corns, so follow harvest directions carefully for the particular variety you are growing. Hard corns need to dry on the stalk, so harvest time is not a particular issue for them.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Today, botanists generally agree that a wild grass, teosinte (Zea mexicana) is the ancestor of modern corn, originating by human selection sometime between 13,000 and 6,000 BC. Teosinte can ‘pop’ just like today’s popcorn varieties, it shares a similar life cycle with corn, and is easily crossbred, indicating significant genetic similarities with corn. Archeological excavations in Southern Mexico have revealed maize cobs (radiocarbon dated at around 5,000 BC) with features intermediate between wild teosinte and maize. By 3,000 BC, while Mesoamericans had domesticated a number of other food plants as well, maize appeared to be of increasing importance. With other domesticated plants, maize permitted more and larger permanent settlements and provided an important element in the subsequent cultural flowering in later Mesoamerica.

Columbus is credited with bringing maize to Spain on his return voyage in 1493. Its cultivation spread quickly in the early 1500s, and fairly quickly reached worldwide distribution, achieving status as one of the most climatically adaptable members of the grass family. Today, corn is one of the world’s three most important cereal crops for human and domestic animal consumption. While there are hundreds of corn varieties, virtually all fall under six major categories: (1) sweet corn, (2) popcorn, (3) flour corn, (4) broom corn (a decorative corn grown for long fibrous tassels) (5) dent corn (the principle hard corn grown for animal consumption) and (6) flint corn (includes ornamental Indian corn and many varieties that are preferred for cornmeal, polenta, and hominy).

Genus name comes from the Greek name for another cereal.

Specific epithet comes from the Mexican vernacular name for maize.


Insect pests include European corn borer, corn earworm, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, fall army worm, and cutworms. Potential diseases include corn smut, anthracnose, rusts, viruses, and leaf blights. Clean garden practices, crop rotation, and planting resistant strains are generally the best defense against these issues. Animal pests like squirrels, raccoons, and deer can be serious once ears develop.


As one of the most important food crops, corn is grown for both human and domestic animal consumption. It is valued in the home garden for its superior flavor compared to that of store-bought. Corn is also used ornamentally in seasonal decorations.