Sweet Corn

This is modified from the Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for CommercialGrowers​ (ID-56) as an introduction to the production practices of sweet corn. For more information, see the ID-56 or contact a SWPAP specialist.  

Sweet Corn Types

Sweet corn is usually described by color (yellow, bicolor, or white) and by the major genes that make it sweet. The original sweet corn (called standard, sugary, or su) contains the su1 genetic variant that makes it sweet instead of starchy like field corn. Sugary sweet corn is grown today primarily for processing and specialized markets.

A second type of sweet corn is called sugar-enhanced, sugary enhancer, EH, or se corn because it contains the se1 genetic variant that increases sugar content and makes the kernels more tender. Heterozygous se corn has one copy of the se1 mutation, and homozygous se corn has two copies of the se1 mutation, increasing its effect. Sugar-enhanced sweet corn is grown primarily for direct retail sales and local wholesale markets.

A third type of sweet corn, called supersweet, ultrasweet, extra sweet, or shrunken-2 contains the sh2 genetic variation. This type typically has a higher sugar content than sugary corn, and the sugar content does not decline rapidly after picking, so it remains sweet for several days after harvest. Kernels typically are not as tender as se corn. Supersweet types are grown for retail sales, local fresh markets, and wholesale shipping markets.

Some of the newest sweet corn varieties combine the sh2 with su and/or se genetics in new ways. Many of these new varieties have performed well in Midwestern trials and are gaining popularity. The new types are often identified by trademarked brand names and described as having enhanced eating quality. Consult with seed company representatives and sweet corn trial researchers to identify varieties suitable for your needs.

Isolation Requirements

Sweet corn flavor is affected by pollen source. All sweet corn types should be isolated from field corn pollen by 250 feet or by a 14-day difference in tasselling dates. Supersweet (sh2) varieties must be similarly isolated from sugary and sugar-enhanced types. If not isolated, kernels of both varieties will be starchy instead of sweet.

It is not essential to isolate sugar-enhanced (se) sweet corn from sugary (su) sweet corn: cross-pollination will not result in starchy kernels. However, isolation permits the full expression of sugar-enhanced traits. Likewise, to get the full benefits of new genetics, isolation is usually recommended for the new combinations of sh2 and se or su. If complete isolation is not possible, plants should at least be isolated from pollen that will increase the proportion of starchy kernels. Refer to the table below for isolation requirements or check with your seed supplier.

To maintain color purity, isolate white corn from yellow or bi-color corn. Pollen from yellow or bi-color corn will cause some yellow kernels in white varieties. Pollen from yellow corn will lead to extra yellow kernels in bi-color varieties. Pollen from white corn will not affect yellow or bi-color varieties.

Sweet Corn Isolation Requirements1


Corn Type or Brand

Isolate from these Types or Brands

Standard (su)

Shrunken-2, Xtra Tender, Gourmet Sweet

Sugar-enhanced (se)

Shrunken-2, Xtra Tender, Gourmet Sweet

TripleSweet, Synergistic

Shrunken-2, Xtra Tender, Gourmet Sweet

Shrunken-2 (sh2)

Standard, Sugar-enhanced, TripleSweet, Synergistic

Xtra Tender, Gourmet Sweet

Standard, Sugar-enhanced, TripleSweet, Synergistic

Isolate all types from field corn.


Rows 30 to 40 inches apart. Plant early varieties 8 to 10 inches apart in the row, late varieties 9 to 12 inches apart in the row.

Seed 10 to 15 pounds per acre.


Lime: To maintain a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5.

Preplant: N: 60 pounds per acre. P2O5: 0 to 100 pounds per acre. K2O: 0 to 150 pounds per acre. Adjust according to soil type, previous management, and soil test results for your state. For early season varieties, apply a starter fertilizer at planting. Do not exceed 80 to 100 pounds of N + K2O per acre in the fertilizer band (2 inches to the side of the row and 2 inches below the seed). A good starter fertilizer would be 200 pounds per acre of 6-24-24, or 10 gallons of 10-34-0 or similar analysis. On sandy soils, broadcast 30 pounds or band 15 pounds of sulfur per acre.

Sidedress N: For loam or finer textured soils, apply 30 to 40 pounds N per acre when plants are 4 to 5 inches tall, and before they are 10 inches tall. If the soil organic matter content exceeds 3 percent and/or sweet corn follows a legume, this sidedressed N application could be skipped unless there has been excessive rainfall. For irrigated sandy loam soils along river areas, the N preplant application should be replaced with two sidedressings of approximately 40 pounds N per acre each: one when 4 to 5 inches tall (4th to 5th leaf), and the other at 10 inches tall (10th to 12th leaf).​