4 Things To Know About Growing Corn From Kernels

Is a kernel of corn a corn seed? Are there different kinds of corn kernels? What will happen if I put a kernel of popcorn into the ground? We will answer all these questions and more as we discuss how to grow corn from kernels.

A corn kernel is a corn seed. There are 5 different types of corn: sweet, popcorn, field, flint, and pod. For each type, there are hundreds of different varieties to choose from, so do your research and find the best corn kernels to grow in your area. To grow corn in your garden, you can buy kernels from a certified seed company, or you can make a trip to your local grocery store or farmer’s market. You can also grow a rare, heritage variety. Then you are all set to grow this vegetable/grain/fruit in your own garden.

When you buy a cob of corn, it has around 800 kernels arranged in 16 rows. These kernels are the part of the corn that you eat. A corn kernel is a corn seed, and each of these kernels will grow into a new corn plant. If you plan on planting corn kernels in your garden, here are 4 things to consider.

  1. Types of Corn
  2. Sourcing and cultivating kernels
  3. Rare kernels
  4. Is a kernel of corn a vegetable?

1. Types Of Corn

There are six different types of corn, and they all grow from kernels harvested off the cobs. These types are sweet corn, popcorn, dent, flint, field, and pod.

Read Next: How to grow corn to feed your chickens.

Sweet Corn

This the type of corn grown for eating fresh on the cob, canned, or frozen. It is the sweetest type, and if that not enough for you, it also comes in super sweet. Sweet corn is the most commonly grown corn in the home garden.


Popcorn is the second most commonly grown corn for gardeners. This type has less sugar and more starch than sweet corn and will pop up very nicely when heated. This type is popular for self-sufficient growers because it can be dried and stored for years, and the dried kernels can be either popped and eaten or planted back in the garden.

Popcorn by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Field Corn

There are many different types of field corn, but the most common is dent corn. Dent corn has even more starch than popcorn. This type is used to make flour and cornmeal, and there are many varieties of dent corn available on the market. Most corn fed to livestock is generally a variety of dent corn.

Other varieties of field corn are also used to make ethanol. These varieties would be a little harder to source for the home gardener, but if you are looking at being truly self-sufficient, this is the way to go.

Flint Corn

Flint corn is usually grown as an ornamental corn. Its kernels become very hard when they are dry, and they are usually very brightly coloured.

Pod Corn

Pod corn is much less common, and many places do not even list it as a type. It is grown in South and Central America, and is more akin to a wild grass. Instead of the kernels growing right on the cob, the kernels form inside small husks.

2. Sourcing And Cultivating Corn Kernels

Most seed companies sell corn kernels. In this case, it is often a good idea to shop from local suppliers as they will sell varieties that are more suited to your specific local. For example, corn needs a fairly long season of warm days, and if you order a variety from another country it might not form mature ears in your growing season.

You can also grow corn that you buy at the grocery store. We go into more detail about how to grow supermarket corn kernels in another article.

3. Rare Kernels

Corn has been grown for over 10,000 years. Throughout the centuries, corn has been bred and crossbred to produce many different varieties with “improved” characteristics. But we should not forget about the ancient varieties that our ancestors grew. These heritage varieties have many qualities that are superior in the self-sufficient garden.

First and foremost, the ancient Mexicans did not have access to seed catalogs, so they had to save their own seeds to grow every year. If you are striving to be more self-sufficient, then these varieties will let you grow and cultivate your own stock year after year. There are also many seed exchange programs out there that promote the cultivation and sharing of these disappearing varieties.

Who owns the seeds?

Many crops that are grown in farmers’ fields, including many corn varieties, are not owned by the farmer. The seeds are patented by an agri-corp and the farmer buys the seed with the understanding that they cannot save any seeds from their crop. If the farmer gave you an ear of corn from one of these fields and you planted the kernels in your garden, you could both find yourselves in court.

4. Is A Kernel Of Corn A Vegetable?

What is corn? Is it a vegetable, a grain, or a fruit? There are many differing opinions on the matter, but it is actually all three. A whole cob of corn is usually considered a vegetable, as is a kernel when it is eaten fresh, frozen, or canned. However, if the kernel is dried, such as for popcorn, or ground into cornmeal, then it is considered a whole grain. To further complicate matters, most whole grains are technically fruits because they come from the flowering part of the plant.

I personally like the unscientific classification that if you would put it on ice cream it is a fruit, otherwise, it is a vegetable. So corn seems more like a vegetable to me as I haven’t seen corn flavoured ice cream yet (but I would probably try it if they made it).