Pollination is an important stage of corn plant development. Besides shooting up a tassel which drops corn pollen, the plant’s baby ears are silking. The silk will “catch” the pollen from the tassel and deliver it to the ear for fertilization so kernels can be produced.
Proper nutrients, soil moisture, and temperature are critical at this point.
While our first planted patch of sweet corn is tasselling, our field corn is not as far along in plant maturity. It has a visible flag leaf, from which the tassel will emerge.
For nutrient considerations, the corn was fertilized at a rate tailored for the soil needs which vary by field depending on soil type, last year’s crop, and plant population.
Soil moisture is monitored, and with the drought persisting in our area this year, irrigation has been a non-stop job. While most of our acres are watered via pivot irrigation, our son’s sweet corn patch was hilled so that water can flow down a ditch. We gave our son, age 12, the opportunity to irrigate or not on a few acres. He has wisely chosen to water his sweet corn, once he understood the relationship between moisture and yield! On the left, you can see him digging out his row a few weeks ago with a shovel so the water will flow through to the end of the row. (Hilling is not a perfect process.) While this is what pipe irrigation would look like, he’s actually using a few hoses since this is small area.
We have no control over the temperature, but we do monitor whether it is optimum so we can be aware if we are having pollination issues. Drought stress and high temperatures hinder pollination and reduce yield. We’ve always considered the rule of thumb that the temperature should be under about 70 degrees for two hours in a twenty-four hour period for optimum pollination.
With each day, the corn produces more silk, (one silk per kernel), and the entire pollination process takes about a week to ten days. On average there are 600 silks per ear that are fertilized and become kernels, out of a potential of 750 to 1000.
What about detasselling? Only corn grown for seed has its tassel removed. It is removed, mechanically or by hand, while it is in flag leaf stage, before the pollen is exposed. Driving past such a field, you might notice these fields have a “corduroy effect,” with a pattern that might look like 2 rows of tall corn with tassels and 6 rows of shorter corn without tassels. The rows with tassels are “male” plants, rows without are “female.” In this way, a seed corn hybrid can be created with one type of corn pollinating a different type of corn to create a hybrid that maximizes desirable traits found in both plants. (Technically the tassel is the male part of the plant and the ear and silks are the female part – so the male and female plant distinction is a reference only used in seed corn production.)
Find more information on corn pollination here!