When to Harvest Sweet Corn

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When is corn ready to pick? It’s a tougher answer than you realize. Corn ripens quickly and for only a few days, so the home gardener must watch for the signs that sweet corn is ready to harvest.

In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I talk about how to know when corn ripens for harvest. Click below to listen or continue reading.

Sweet Corn Growing Stages

First, as you watch for sweet corn to ripen, it’s helpful to understand corn’s growing stages:

  • early growth: preparing for pollination
  • mid-growth: pollination
  • final growth: ripening

In the early growth stage, corn prepares for pollination. Tassels emerge at the top of the corn stalks. These contain the pollen needed to pollinate the ears of corn. A couple of weeks after the tassels emerge, a small ear of corn will begin to grow in the middle of the stalk.

corn tassels before harvest

In the mid growth stage, silks emerge from the top of the ears of corn. Each strand of silk is attached to a kernel of corn that needs to be pollinated. Corn is wind-pollinated, but if you don’t have much wind to help with pollination (or if you’ve planted a small corn planting), shake the stalk gently to help the pollen get to every strand of silk.

early silk on corn before ripening

In the final growth stage, the cluster of silk turns brown and dries out as the ear begins to ripen to maturity. Also, the ear will start to angle away from the stalk. When you grasp the ear, a ripening ear of corn will transition from hard to soft as it nears maturity. The tip of the ear also changes from a definite point to a more blunted end. In this stage, the juice from the kernels changes as well. When pricked, ripe kernels will produce a milky white substance. If the fluid is clear, it’s not ready; if no fluid runs at all, it’s past maturity and likely inedible.

dried corn silk indicates ripening

Picking Sweet Corn Too Early

As you can see with the stages corn goes through during the ripening process, it’s important not to pick too early or too late.

If you pick your corn too early, the kernels will still be hard because they haven’t had the time to plump and ripen. You don’t want to waste your effort and pick your corn too early. But keep a close eye on it — checking it daily — because it’s easy to wait too long.

Picking Sweet Corn Too Late

Likewise, you don’t want to harvest corn too late.

My first year I tested my corn by pricking a kernel, and I knew that it wasn’t quite ripe. I waited a week and tested again. By then it was too late. We tried to eat it, but it was mealy and not at all edible. The lesson here is this: when you see that your corn is ripening, watch it closely and check it daily so you don’t miss the prime window for harvest like I did.

Thankfully, after that one season, I learned the signs that corn is ready to harvest, and we’ve had a bumper crop of corn each year!

signs that corn is ready to pick

3 Signs that Corn is Ready to Harvest

To sum up, when corn is ready to pick, watch for these 3 signs:

  1. The silks are completely brown, dried out, and brittle.
  2. The ear is soft to the touch, and the tip is blunt instead of pointed.
  3. The juice from the kernel runs milky white.

Watch the following video for a full demonstration of what corn looks like when ready to pick:

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  1. It was mentioned that when the corn is fully matured and ready to be picked, it will start to angle away from the stock. My parents moved into a home in the country last year and decided that they wanted to plant 2 acers of corn. Now that it is time to harvest, they can’t seem to keep up. Is there a company they can hire to come harvest all the corn for them so they can sell it?

  2. Hello from California! Thank you for the information! First time to grow corn and tried out a new variety called Japonica corn. It has beautiful pink striped leaves and the corn is a deep reddish purple hue. It grew nicely, but after all the effort, I waited too late and the kernel became hard. Jill, you mentioned that your first harvest was not edible. What did you do with your hard corn? I plucked off all the cobs and removed the husk. Can I leave it on the counter to dry and possibly be used to make popcorn?

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you, too! I gave my corn to my chickens. I believe that popcorn is a different type of corn, but I’m not 100% certain…maybe it could work?…that’s something to look into!

  3. Hi Jill, Thank you for your reply! I have no regrets! The corn was beautiful in my garden and I’m happy I gave it a try. I tried to make popcorn, but I think you’re right that it needs to be a different type because these kernels are quite hard and difficult to pop. Thank you for your information, I love your website and the detail of information you provide. Thank you! Happy gardening to all! Sincerely, Patty

  4. If there is more than one ear on the stalk, is it safe to assume that not all of the ears will be ready to pick at the same time?

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