What to Use to Kill Weeds in Sweet Corn Without Hurting the Corn

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Weeds growing around sweet corn can be removed by hand, or with certain chemicals.
Weeds growing around sweet corn can be removed by hand, or with certain chemicals. (Image: corn-cobs image by Maria Brzostowska from Fotolia.com)

After all the hard work planning, planting and tending the sweet corn growing in your garden, the last thing you want are weeds to take over and strangle the growth of the corn plants, ruining them and cutting down on corn production. There are different methods and tools that can be used for weed removal in a sweet corn patch.

Hand Removal

Depending on the size of your sweet corn patch, you may be able to keep up with any emerging weeds by hand. Catch them when they are small for easiest removal and before weed roots take hold and spread. Water the soil before you start weeding so it is easier to pull the weeds. The water will loosen the soil and the grip on weeds and their roots forming in the soil around the corn plants. Use your hands and pull the weeds at the base close to the ground, not at the top of the weed where it may break off, leaving the root in the ground. For stubborn weeds, use a hand tool to help dig down in the ground for weed removal. Since this can be back breaking and very tiring work, do not forget to make use of potential helping hands by getting other family members or friends involved in the plant care and maintenance. This is a great teaching technique to help children learn and appreciate what is involved in growing the food they eat.

Chemical Techniques

Although chemicals are an option for weed reduction and removal, and with pest control, a healthier vegetable garden for consumption is weeded and maintained without pesticides. However, if it is necessary to use chemicals, follow the directions precisely in regard to method and time of application. Plan ahead; know what you may need before you begin planting the corn. Some varieties of weed killing chemicals are meant to be applied at or before planting time and others when the plants have matured to a specific height. Other types of chemicals are fine for use on edible corn plants, but need to be applied well before harvesting time. The various types of chemicals also have specific methods of application, amounts of water required, amount per ground area and so forth. Apply the chemicals carefully around the sweet corn. A couple examples of the many varieties of weed killers used for corn are dimethenamid-P, which is applied after the corn comes out of the ground and until the plants are about 12 inches; or acetochlor, which is used before planting or before the new growth appears above ground. Each type of the many herbicide options has specific usages. Read the directions thoroughly.

Tools

Use a cushioned kneeling pad or knee guards when you weed your corn at ground level. These will cushion and protect your knees. If you prefer to sit instead of kneel to do your weeding, a portable garden seat or stool will work well. Protect your hands and nails with a pair of gardening gloves. For weeding while standing, use a long-handled cultivator or hoe. Weed carefully around the plants. It is easier to damage plants with larger tools from a distance than by hand weeding. To weed while kneeling or sitting, remove weeds with a fishtail weeder, a hand hoe, a hand rake or a hand cultivator. The fishtail weeder has a forked end at the end of a long handle and works well for digging straight down and removing deep roots. The cultivator, hand hoe or a hand rake work best for weeds with shallow roots and for weeding closer to the corn plants. Use hand tools with care around any growth to prevent plant damage, particularly near fresh new sprouts emerging from the soil or near young tender growth.

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