Broom corn (Sorghum vulgare) is not only a hardy annual plant, it’s a beautiful plant that can last for years following harvest. This fact makes broom corn a plant that has numerous uses. As the botanical name suggests, broomcorn is a variety of sorghum resembling a tall grass that forms imposing and colorful tassel like, fan-shaped seed heads 16 to 20 inches long rather than of ears of corn.
Benjamin Franklin is recognized as introducing broomcorn to the United States in the early 1700s. In 1797 farmer Levi Dickenson from Hadley, Massachusetts, used a bundle of broom corn to make an extremely good broom for his wife and word of mouth took over.
This success led Dickinson to begin producing and selling straw brooms throughout his community, although the business did not really take off until 1810 when Dickinson invented a foot-treadle broom machine that made better brooms more quickly. By 1834 commercial broom corn production had spread to several Northeast states and began moving west. Small broom shops began to crop up all over the west and tens of thousands of acres of broom corn were grown annually, particularly in the mid-west where broom corn grew exceedingly well and still does today.
Broom Corn Resurgence
Today, broom corn is making a resurgence, but not as a plant used for making brooms. It’s now being used as a fashionable ornamental plant in garden beds and for borders by discriminating landscapers and gardeners. The gently waving, colorful and heavily-laden seed heads will add visually stimulating dimensions to your garden that are difficult to achieve with other plants.
Broom corn is also being grown, harvested and dried to use in fall (autumn) wreaths and arrangements rather corn because of it’s striking and unusual characteristics. It can be used in conjunction with other plants or very effectively by itself. Simply placing a few stems in an earthen vase with a couple of pumpkins around the bottom can provide a surprisingly sophisticated yet very simple decoration.
While it’s possible to buy cuttings of broom corn, it’s rather expensive and you may not be able to get the color(s) and or stem length you require. It’s also possible that the seed heads will begin to fall apart during shipping, which defeats the purpose unless you’re making brooms. With this in mind the best approach is to grow your own. By doing this you’ll get the best of both worlds.
- You’ll reap the benefits of having a unique and exceptionally eye-catching addition to your garden.
- You’ll feel enormously proud and satisfied that you’ve been able to grow your own broom corn and then harvest it to use in your very own fall and/or Thanksgiving decorations.
And don’t worry, growing broom doesn’t require a PhD in horticulture to be grown successfully.
Simple Steps for Growing Broom Corn
Broomcorn is a resilient plant and because it’s generally impervious to insect pests and mold, it’s pretty easy to grow. Broom corn is best planted sometime between May 1 and June 15. However, it should only be planted after all chances of frost have past and the soil is warm. A good rule of thumb is about 2 weeks after the last frost. It should also be planted in areas that will receive full sunlight for the duration of the growing cycle.
Depending on your requirements broom corn can be planted a couple of ways. If you want to harvest the plant for use in crafts etc. the seeds should be placed at a depth of about 1”, with seeds about 3-4” apart and in rows that are approximately 2-3 feet apart. This ensures that the large seed heads have sufficient space to mature in. At the same time it also helps prevent the stalks from bending over from the weight of the seed head. As broom corn grows to a height of 10-12 feet make sure the area you’re going to plant in will accommodate the plants height.
If on the other hand, you’re growing broom corn for ornamental purposes it can be planted much closer together. Keep in mind however; if you allow it to self-seed in succeeding years it won’t take long for it to become crowded. The first shoots will appear in about 7-10 days and will be ready to harvest around 90 to 110 days after planting. The plants should be watered frequently.
The seed heads mature in the fall in striking shades of red, black, amber and brown and is ready to harvest when the plant turns from a yellow to green color and before the seeds completely mature. It can be easily harvested with a sharp knife by cutting the plant with a long stem. It can be dried out easily by simply hanging it upside down or by laying it out on a flat surface or drying rack. If you want to make a broom you can remove the seeds with an ordinary hair comb or by lightly hitting the seed heads against a flat surface.
In sum, Broom corn is a robust annual plant that’s easy to grow and that will live on for many years after being harvested in the form of decorative wreaths, bouquets or as a broom. In addition to its craft uses broomcorn can also be grown as a rather stunning ornamental. The seed can also be used a bird feed. Lorenz’s OK Seeds, LLC has freshly harvested broom corn seed in red, black, or mixed available now. And remember, you can keep your seed fresh by simply storing it in a freezer until the following growing season begins. Moreover, buying seed early means that you may be able to save money as seed supplies do decrease and thus become more expensive as the growing season draws closer.
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Download Broom Corn Seed Test.pdf format.