Growing and Harvesting Ornamental Corn

Along with mums and pumpkins, ornamental (occasionally referred to as "Indian corn") is often used to decorate homes in the fall.  Ornamental corn can be purchased at farmer’s markets, roadside stands, craft shows, garden centers, and other locations.  Ornamental corn can also be grown in large home gardens. 

Ornamental corn in many colors
Several ornamental corn ears ranging in various colors from red, brown and yellow.

Types & Cultivars

Ears of ornamental corn vary in size, color, luster, and uses.  Ears vary from small (less than 6 inches in length) to large (6 to 12 inches long).  Kernels may be single color or multi-colored.  The kernels of some cultivars are shiny, while others are muted.  Some cultivars can be popped; others can be ground into cornmeal or flour.  A list of suggested ornamental corn cultivars (and a brief description of each) is provided below. 

  • Bloody Butcher - heirloom cultivar; ears are 8 to 12 inches long; blood red kernels; can be ground into corn meal or flour.
  • Cherry Berry - 4-inch ears have crimson red kernels; may be popped when properly dried; husks are beige, burgundy red, or streaked.
  • Cutie Pops - produces 4-inch, multi-colored ears; may be popped.
  • Earth Tones Dent - 8 to 10-inch ears have muted, multi-colored kernels; can be ground into cornmeal.
  • Fiesta - multi-colored, 8-inch ears; 25 to 50 percent have purple husks.
  • Firecracker - produces 5-inch, multi-colored ears; may be popped; red stalks.
  • Indian Fingers - shiny, multi-colored ears are 3 to 4 inches long.
  • Jerry Petersen Blue - heirloom; 7 to 8-inch ears have blue kernels; can be used for blue flour.
  • Mandan Bride - heirloom (grown by the Mandan Indians of North Dakota); multi-colored ears are 6 to 8 inches long.
  • Neon Pink - 4-inch ears have dark pink kernels.
  • Oaxacan Green - heirloom (grown by the Zapotec Indians of southern Mexico); kernels on the 8 to 10-inch ears are various shades of green; can be ground into cornmeal.
  • Painted Mountain - multi-colored, 7-inch ears; can be ground into flour.
  • Seneca Red Stalker - 7 to 8-inch ears have shiny, multi-colored kernels; reddish purple stalks.
  • Shades of Blue - kernels on the 4-inch ears vary from light to dark blue.
  • Smoke Signals - slender,7-inch, multi-colored ears; may be popped.
  • Wilda’s Pride - wide assortment of multi-color combinations on 9 to 10-inch ears; some have red husks. 

Planting

Ornamental corn can be planted in late April or early May in southern Iowa.  A planting date of early to mid-May is appropriate for northern portions of the state.  Sow seeds 1 to 1½ inches deep.  Space seeds 8 to 10 inches apart within rows for small-eared cultivars and 10 to 12 inches apart for large-eared cultivars.  Rows should be spaced 30 to 36 inches apart.  For proper pollination, plant in blocks of at least 4 rows.  Isolate ornamental corn from sweet corn and field corn to prevent cross-pollination.  Isolation can be achieved by planting the different types of corn at least 250 feet from one another.  Another option is to stagger planting dates so the different types of corn do not mature (tassel) at the same time.  A minimum of 14 days should separate the tasseling times of the different types of corn.

Harvesting

Harvest ornamental corn when the ears are fully mature and the husks are dry.  Store them in a dry location for 2 to 3 weeks.  Then carefully pull back the husks. 

Popping

If you wish to pop an ornamental popcorn, remove the husks at harvest. Place the ears in a mesh bag and hang the popcorn in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location for a few weeks.  After drying the popcorn for 2 to 3 weeks, remove an ear of popcorn.  Shell a portion of the ear and pop the kernels.  If the kernels contain too much moisture, the popped corn will be small, rough, and “chewy.”  Allow the popcorn to dry for another week.  Then shell and test pop a few additional kernels.  When the kernels pop well, shell the remainder of the popcorn.  The chaff can be removed by pouring the kernels from one container to another outdoors, allowing the wind to remove the debris.  Store shelled popcorn in air-tight containers.

Authors:
Last reviewed:
September 2023