In Garden, Lifestyle

corn tassles and pollinationHarvesting buckets of ears of corn in the summer is why you grow corn. It’s the endgame, why you sweat all summer to pick ears of golden-wrapped summer sunshine. But do you really know how it’s done? How does corn pollinate? Corn pollination is for the birds and bees. The cornstalk knows how to care of pollination.

How does corn get pollinated?

As a corn plant puts out tassels that shoot out at the top of a cornstalk, it releases pollen. In a botanical coordination likened to a Broadway dance show, silky strands show up on the lower portion of the stalk. Corn silks can be receptive to pollen dust for a 10 day window after emergence, but successful pollination usually happens within the first 4-5 days. The pollen from the top of the plant must reach the silk farther down in that window of time. Mostly this is done by wind power.

How many rows of corn for best pollination?

Corn is pollinated by the blowing of the wind, so it cannot be planted in single rows. The wind will just blow pollen past where there are no budding ears to receive it. Even a couple of rows of corn will not pollinate correctly. A block of at least four rows wide is required to get full ears of sweet corn. The key to a solid corn harvest is in planting blocks of corn to effectively spread wafting pollen to receptive silks below.

Can you calculate when corn is ready to eat?

It’s like starting the countdown clock to getting the pot of water boiling once the corn tassels. It’s roughly about 20 days before the kernels are ready for harvest. It takes about 5 days for complete pollination once first silks appear. Early and mid or late varieties all have different total length of time for growing, but this is the same for any variety.

The trouble with cross-pollination

Gardener’s who claim that one cucumber crossed with a melon and they got a weird fruit is generally mistaken.  The trouble didn’t start with this year’s growing. They must have started out with bad seed and didn’t know it. Weird fruit is not the result of cross pollination in the current growing year.  Cross pollination of seed will affect the next generation’s fruit, not this year’s fruit as a general rule. Corn cross pollination is an exception to that rule. The corn that you hope to harvest this year can be affected by cross pollination from an unwanted variety, so you must be more aware of the corn you plant in your garden and where.

corn pollination is for the birds and beesSo how do you prevent this corn cross pollination?

There are 3 basic methods on how to deal with cross-pollination.

1.       Plant one variety of corn each year.

With so many new and exciting varieties of corn, SE, SU, new varieties being launched each year, most people don’t want to limit their choices and their palate to one variety of corn per year. That would really restrict you from enjoying the abundant choices that exist and is not the most viable choice.

1.      Distance

Another solution is that plants can be isolated from each other during the growing season and solve the issue that way. Separating cultivar recommendations vary from 100 feet to 700 feet depending on different experts—of course, the farther apart the better. The greater distance will provide complete isolation of white and yellow varieties and prevent them crossing, but at least 200 feet should work for most varieties unless you regularly have very windy weather.

corn pollination is for the birds and bees3.      Time

One of the simplest ways to prevent cross-pollination is planning your planting schedule so varieties don’t mature and collide at the same time. Cross-pollination can easily be prevented by keeping a minimum of 14 days’ difference in the corn variety’s maturity date. All it takes is a little math calculating. For example, if you want to plant a super-sweet variety with 75 days to maturity you can plant it at the same time as another cultivar that matures in 95-100 days. Be sure to plant them at the same time.
Or, if the varieties you wish to plant have the same days to maturity, simply plant one and then delay seeding the other variety for about two weeks.
How to deal with cross-pollination is not rocket science.  With a little math and knowledge of your weather and varieties available, it’s not a big problem. Corn pollination is for the birds and bees really. You just have to calculate time and location and let nature take its course.

NOTE: There are affiliate links in this post. If you buy from these links, I get a little seed money!


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