Zea: Ornamental Sweetcorn
Height 90cm-l.5m (3-5ft)
Planting distance 45cm (18in)
Flowers early to mid summer
Open sunny site
Several varieties of sweetcorn (Zea mays) have variegated foliage or coloured cobs, which make them suitable for garden decoration. Grow them as dot plants in summer bedding schemes or use them to fill gaps in mixed and herbaceous borders.
They are tall plants, reaching up to 1.5m (5ft) high, so they will have considerable impact wherever you plant them – ideally in an open sunny site, but protected from strong winds.
The cobs appear between early and mid summer, but before and after the leaves make an attractive display.
The following varieties are grown for garden decoration. ‘Gigantea Quadricolor’ is a robust 1.5m (5ft) high variety with leaves variegated with white, pale yellow and pink. ‘Gracillima Variegata’ is a dwarf variety 90cm (3ft) high with slender white-striped leaves. ‘Japonica’ reaches 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) high and has green leaves with white stripes. ‘Rainbow’, 1.5m (5ft) high, has green leaves and coloured cobs composed of yellow, red, orange and purple-blue seeds. When ripe, and dried, the cobs can be used for winter decoration. ‘Strawberry Corn’ is a green-leaved variety reaching 1.5m (5ft) high with strawberry-shaped maroon cobs.
Sow the seeds under glass in, setting them singly 1cm (1/2in) deep in 7.5cm (3in) pots of seed compost. Keep at a temperature of 16-18°C (61-64°F). When the seedlings are 12-15cm (5-6in) high, harden off and plant out 45cm (18in) apart. This should be done in late spring.
Alternatively, sow the seeds in the open in late spring. Sow the seeds in groups of three, 1cm (1/2in) deep and 45cm (18in) apart, later removing two plants from each group to leave the strongest.
An open sunny site, protected from strong winds, is essential for ornamental sweetcorn. Ideally the soil should have been enriched with well-rotted manure.
Pests and diseases
Birds may damage the cobs.