Magazine article Sunset

Decorative Grains for Indoor Autumn Color

Magazine article Sunset

Decorative Grains for Indoor Autumn Color

Article excerpt

Plant ornamental corn and wheat now for long-lasting color in your home this fall

Many gardeners plant and harvest everlasting flowers for colorful arrangements in fall. But just as decorative, though usually more subtle, are the ornamental grains - corn and wheat.

Standard Indian corns have long been popular in autumn arrangements, but miniature varieties are more of a novelty. Less well known are the broom corns, with their decorative seed heads, and pod corns, with papery husks covering each kernel.

Ornamental wheat is often used as a filler in everlasting flower arrangements. But when several sheaves are bunched together, wheat makes a dramatic presentation on its own or in combination with ornamental corn, as shown at left.


Although shocks of bundled cornstalks set a festive harvest scene, the primary reason to plant ornamental corn is for its shiny, colorful ears, which offer endless possibilities for long-lasting wall hangings, baskets, and table decorations.

Ornamental corn comes in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors - even textures.

Standard varieties, often called Indian corn, produce one or two 7- to 10-inch-long ears per plant and are usually multicolored. A common variety is 'Calico Indian'.

Multicolored 'Fiesta' matures in about 92 days, 8 to 10 days earlier than 'Calico Indian'. This is advantageous in short-season areas where late-maturing varieties are marginal. 'Fiesta' has variable multicolored ears; stems and husks of about half of the plants are an attractive reddish purple.

'Red Stalker' was bred for its showy reddish purple stalks, which appear on about 65 to 70 percent of the plants; the remaining stalks are green, or green with red streaks. Ears are multicolored.

Miniature varieties produce smaller ears, usually 3 to 6 inches long. Expect two to four ears from the main stalk; often, additional smaller ears appear on side sprouts called tillers. With the exception of a few early varieties, such as multicolored 'Chinook', which matures in 85 to 90 days, most miniature varieties require 100 days or more for maturation.

Attractive companions are 'Cutie Blues', with uniformly blue kernels, and 'Mini Pink', a light pink shaded with blue. You may find similar blue or pink varieties by other names. Miniatures also include petite ornamental popcorns, such as burgundy 'Strawberry' (shaped like a 2-inch strawberry) and multicolored 'Cutie Pops'.

Pod corn has papery mini-husks that range from buff to reddish brown and cover each kernel of the 5 1/2- to 6-inch ears. 'Feather Mixed' gives a variety of colors and reaches maturity in approximately 110 days.

Broom corn is actually a type of sorghum. It has decorative seed-studded tassels that bush from the plant's top. Colors vary from standard buff-khaki to striking red. Plants can be large - as tall as 12 feet - and require a long growing season (120 days).


Isolate ornamental corn from sweet corn to prevent cross-pollination, which will adversely affect sweet corn. Or juggle planting dates and use types with different days to maturity so the two types won't cross.

Grow ornamental corn just as you would sweet corn. Plant in rich soil in a location that gets full sun. Amend soil with compost or fertilizer according to package directions. Plant corn when soil is warm, at least 60 [degrees] to 65 [degrees]. To ensure pollination, sow seeds in blocks of at least four rows; space rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Plant seeds 1 to 1 1/2, inches deep, 6 inches apart. …

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