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How To Grow Popcorn – The Simple Steps To A Great Harvest

You might be surprised at just how easy it is to plant, grow, and harvest a big crop of popcorn in your backyard garden.

There truly is a sense of amazement watching your crop pop into a delicious snack once dry. And not only is it delicious and healthy to eat, but growing your own popping kernels can also make for quite the conversation piece in the garden.

The Magic Of Growing Popcorn…

Most folks are amazed to find out that popcorn grows in much the same fashion as traditional sweet corn. In fact, to the average visitor to your garden, that is exactly what they will think you are growing.

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That is of course, until late summer, when instead of picking fresh, the kernels and cobs are allowed to stay on their stalks. And in the process, dry in the summer breeze to slowly harden into one of the healthiest crops around!

Popcorn not only contains antioxidants, but is also a great source of fiber. The whole grain crop is a great choice for those on a diet or looking to cut calories. In fact, a single cup of butter-free popcorn contains less than 40 calories!

And then there is the taste! It’s honestly nearly impossible to compare the taste of fresh popped, home-grown popcorn to the processed microwave bags of puffed corn you find in the store.

Popcorn grows much like traditional sweet corn. The difference is that popcorn stays on the stalks to dry into hard kernels that can then be picked and stored for popping the whole year around.

From Ladyfinger and Dakota Black, to Glass Gem, Strawberry and Shaman’s Blue, there are so many unique, beautiful and tasty heirloom popcorn varieties available to grow. And all will leave you wanting more of their fresh, tasty flavor.

And best of all, it really is easy to grow and harvest your own crop! Here is a step by step look at how to plant popcorn in your backyard garden this year.

How To Plant, Grow & Harvest Popcorn

As mentioned at the top of the article, popcorn grows in similar fashion to its fellow family member sweet corn. In fact, there are about 6 total types of corn in the world, and all grow in much the same manner.

But popcorn differs from the others in that it has a special starch within its kernel. And when dried and then heated with a bit of oil, pops into a fluffy treat.

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Strawberry popcorn is a favorite for many backyard gardens. Don’t be fooled by its name however, this tasty popcorn does not taste like strawberries. But the deep red kernels do pop into delicious tasting popcorn with a deep red center.

Planting & Pollination

Popcorn seeds should be planted in the late spring once the soil has warmed a bit. If planting occurs too early in the spring, seeds can easily rot away or struggle to germinate.

To avoid this, allow the soil temperature to heat up to at least 60 to 65 degrees. This rule of thumb actually applies to all corn seed, and not just popcorn.

Setting Your Crop Up For Success

Good pollination is a big key to success for a popcorn crop. And the best way to ensure that is to plant your crop in a block formation instead of a few long rows. .

Popcorn relies heavily on the wind for pollination. The plants have both male and female flowers, and as the wind blows through the tops of the developing crop, pollination from one plant to another occurs.

Planting in blocks rather than long rows allows for better germination. This allows the wind to have a better chance to pollinate across the tops of the crop.

Unfortunately, if planting occurs in a single long row, it lessens the chances for the pollen to spread. For best results, plant popcorn at least 4 to 6 rows wide, instead of 2 or 3 long rows.

Creating Your Rows And Planting

If you will be growing sweet corn in addition to popcorn, it is important to locate them away from one another. The two will cross-pollinate if planted beside each other or in the same immediate vicinity.

The result can make for a much less tasty crop for both varieties! A minimum of 50 feet between crops will usually be enough to keep each crop safe.

Once you have chosen your location, begin by creating rows 18″ to 24″ inches apart from one another. A string tied to two stakes at each end of your row is a great way to keep planting straight and true.

growing popcorn
Popcorn, like sweet corn, is a heavy feeder from the soil. Amending planting rows with compost prior to planting can help provide additional nutrients for a healthy, productive crop.

Create the rows by using a hoe or mattock at a planting depth of around 2 inches. Popcorn is a heavy feeder from the soil, and adding an inch or so of compost into the row at this point will go a long way to helping provide much need nutrients.

Next, plant the seeds down into the compost layer. Plant the seeds about 4 to 6 inches apart, nestling them into the compost. Seed depth in the compost should be about 1.5 inches from the surface of the soil.

In addition to providing nutrients to the corn, the “blanket” of compost will also help hold moisture into the seeds for faster germination.

Maintaining Your Crop

Weeds are a big enemy of corn. If allowed to grow wild, they can rob vital nutrients from young seedlings.

Keep and eye on your rows during the first six weeks and weed as necessary. Mulching with straw, shredded leaves or grass clippings is a great way to keep weeds down, and valuable moisture in the ground.

The good news is, that once your pop corn begins to grow larger, the foliage of the stalks will keep much of the weed growth at bay.

Fertilizing & Watering Your Popcorn Crop

Popcorn needs about a 1″ of water per week to grow best. Although it rarely needs watering once it has become established, supplying additional water to seedlings during any extended dry period can help with early growth.

The longer the corn is left to dry, the easier it is to shell from the cob. Although it can be done by hand stripping, using a corn sheller is a much easier process!

Fertilizing your crop with a balanced all-purpose organic fertilizer can also help promote strong, early growth. Apply a dose to your crop at about 4 weeks and again at 8 weeks for best results.


Unlike sweet corn, popcorn can be allowed to dry on the stocks. Be aware that as kernels dry, they will become more attractive to wildlife. Both deer and raccoon can demolish a corn patch quickly.

Once the corn has dried, remove it from the stalks and place in a warm, well-ventilated area to continue the drying process further.

Wire baskets or bushel baskets with vents work well. You can also place your corn cobs on an old screen up on blocks to allow for good circulation. Let corn dry a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks before removing from the cob.

The longer the corn stays on the cob to dry, the easier it is to remove. The best way to remove the kernels are with a hand-held corn sheller. They simply slip over the end of the cop and strip the kernels away.

You can also put on a sturdy pair of leather palm gloves and remove by hand. This is fairly easy for a small crop. if you are growing popcorn in larger quantities, it is wise to invest in a hand-held sheller for sure.

To store, place in clean, sealed jar or airtight plastic bag. Popcorn that is dry and stored properly will keep well over a year without losing any of its vigor or taste.

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