Learning to Grow in St. Charles: Growing broom corn for fall decorations

If you want to grow something that is decorative, easy enough for children to grow, and fun, try Sorghum bicolor, commonly known as broom corn. You often see it for sale at garden centers around Halloween for people to use as decorations.

I spoke with a friend who said her son was growing this particular corn as a project. I recalled I had grown it years before, and remembering how easy it was, started it again recently, and now have plants growing in my garden.

It could not be easier to grow. The seed from the variety I purchased many years ago (It kept well – it was from 2002!) is called Sorghum bicolor. Since I started mine indoors, I germinated it in a little seed pot, but if you have an old yogurt cup, you can do the same. Poke some drainage holes in the bottom for drainage.

Soak the seed before planting in potting mix, or even ordinary garden soil. Mine germinated in two days. When it grew large enough, I transplanted seedlings into an ordinary terra cotta pot. Later, after the soil outdoors had warmed, I planted it in the ground where it took off in a spot with full sun. It is thriving in hot summer weather and needs no coddling.

It is also possible to direct sow seeds if temperatures outside are warm enough, as they are from June all through the summer. Keep the soil slightly moist until seedlings emerge.

People with bird feeders sometimes find this plant growing under their feeders and don’t recognize it. These young plants could be transplanted to a more desired location in the garden.

One way you can make broom corn a multipurpose plant is to grow other flowering plants up its sturdy stems. Morning glories, hyacinth beans, and Scarlet Star Glory (a tiny red morning glory) are all suitable options to climb the stems of this plant.

The fun continues into the fall when birds come to broom corn plants to collect their seeds. And you, too, can collect the seeds to sow in successive years.

• Donna Mack is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. Email the extension office at uiemg-kane@illinois.edu for more information.