Sorghum vulgare var. technicum
Very tall grass up to 15 feet tall in one year. This annual makes an interesting temporary hedge plant or back border topped by earth tone seed heads of edible seeds. Can be left as wild bird food or eaten. Seed heads themselves are used to make brooms, hence the name. Very easy to grow with little or no maintenance makes an interesting conversation piece.
Broom corn is not really a corn at all but a type of sorghum which is a grain crop plant. Some of the worlds most important grains come from this group of plants.
The plant is called broom corn because it is a grass that looks very much like corn when it grows but does not produce corn ears but a tuft of grains at the top of the plant.
Broom corn can grow up to 15 feet high and produces strong woody stalks with a dry internal pith. The leaves are long and relatively narrow, very similar to corn but not as prolific. The flowers are produced at the top of the plant in a fluffy spike that is wind pollinated. They are followed by seeds that can be either dark brown, tan, reddish, golden, cream or almost black. The tough fibers to which they are attached are used to make excellent brooms.
Location and care
Broom corn can grow in most soil types but it needs to be well worked before the seed is planted. Adding some compost or other organic material to the soil will ensure a good crop. It is a very hardy plant and once planted needs little care or maintenance. It needs full sun and may need a little watering in times or drought or long periods without rain, otherwise no other watering is required.
Since the plants are wind pollinated they need to be grown in blocks or clumps. Do not space the plants out individually or you will get no seeds.
Broom corn can grow to 15 feet tall so ensure that you have sufficient space to grow it. It grows very rapidly and can make an excellent summer hedge or privacy screen. Sow at least four rows deep to achieve sufficient leaf cover for a hedge. Makes a great talking point.
Once planted broom corn needs little maintenance or care until harvest time. Alternatively the plants can be left as wild bird food and bring winter entertainment to the home.
Seeds are relatively large so it is best to plant them directly into the ground. Space seeds about 12" apart with the same distance between rows. Plant about 1" deep. If planting a hedge the distance can be reduced 9" but no more. Rows can be as much as 24" apart but do not space too wide as the plants are wind pollinated and need to be close or there will be no seeds. At least four rows are needed to produce good seed. Seeds can be planted closer and thinned if desired.
Seed should be sown at least two weeks after the last frost. This will vary greatly from area to area. If in doubt watch to see when the farmers plant their corn and then plant your broom corn. Native Americans who used nature queues to determine when to plant state that corn should be planted ' when oak leaves are the size of a squirrels ear'. Oak leaves grow fast at this time so you need to be really quick.
Germination usually take about 10 days depending on your location, temperatures and rainfall. Plants grow fast and mature in about 15 weeks.
Broom corn can be started indoors in individual pots if desired. Grow as with any other plant, harden off and plant out after frost has passed. Since the plant grows so well without indoor starting it is not really necessary.
Harvesting will depend on what you want. If you are looking to make a broom then Harvesting needs to occur when the entire brush is green. If it is harvested to early, i.e. while the lower ends are still yellow the bottom fibers will be weak. Likewise, if left too long the brush will begin to turn a red color and become less flexible.
Gather into bunches and hand upside down to dry or place in a container to produce a arched shaped as they dry.
Making brooms obviously. It takes about 60 plant tops to make one broom.
The seed heads are also used as a dried flower for making wreathes, flower displays and all kinds of craft projects. Seed heads can be quite heavy to plan your crafts accordingly. Often wreaths are made and hung out as wild bird food. The strong stems can be used as stakes or made into wattle fences.
The seeds are edible and can be sprouted, cooked, popped, or ground into flour.
Broom Corn plants in our field