Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hand Pollinating Corn 101

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For some folks this may be common knowledge, but I have decided to post some general information on how corn pollinates. I also wanted to include some tips on how I assure proper corn pollination for my home garden.

Corn has a male and a female part and both are needed during pollination just like any plant. The tassel (male) forms at the top of the corn plant, and the silk (female) forms in the middle to lower portion of the plant. The pollen forms on the male tassel in what looks like grains of rice.  The grains of rice are what contain the actual pollen inside them and they are called anthers. Mother Nature uses wind to blow the pollen from the anthers on the tassel and hopefully it lands on a corn silk to complete pollination.  This is why it is preferable to plant corn in blocks in a home garden rather than one long row.  With one row plantings of corn, there is a good chance the wind would just blow your pollen away from the plants.  Each silk on an ear of corn is connected to one corn kernel on the ear and all must be pollinated for the kernel to fully form.

Some people hand pollinate their corn by shaking the stalks, but I prefer actually running my hand across the tassel to collect some pollen anthers in my hand. I then sprinkle them into the silk on the lower portion of the plant. This works great for small gardens assuming you have the time and are tall enough to reach the pollen on the tassel of the corn stalk. I am 6' 2'' so this is not a problem for me. I like this method better than just shaking the plants because I have found the wind will blow the grains of pollen away from the plant while shaking.

For an even more detailed description on corn pollination, see the link below.
http://www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/Pollination.htm

Up close view of pollen anthers on tassel

To self pollinate, run hands across tassel to grab some pollen anthers

Then sprinkle them in your corn silks to aid in pollination

Close up of corn silk after hand pollinating

Here is a shot of my corn, 4x8 bed of Peaches and Cream, 72 plants

17 comments:

Engineeredgarden said...

I do the same exact thing, because I don't want to risk having incomplete ears at harvest time. Good description - I'm sure lots of people will be helped by this post....

Kris said...

Thanks EG, I don't like having incomplete ears or corn either. I hope all is well, how is your back?

Anonymous said...

How do you keep your corn from falling over in a strongish rain shower? I have corn in raised beds and this happens every time! Ususally right after tasseling and silking. Grr!

Jennifer Bevers

Kris said...

Jennifer - I have been blessed with this planting that they haven't been blown over. (Knock on wood) My first planting this season got blown over three times. I take extra dirt and mound it up around the plants to reset them upright when they are blown over.

The only thing I can recommend is plant the seeds a little deeper than normal and water less frequently but deeply. This forces the roots to reach down to find water and produces a stronger root system. If you water daily the roots never have to reach down to find water.

Although these steps help, sometimes a strong wind can still cause problems. I hope this helps. See related posts below.

http://georgiahomegarden.blogspot.com/2011/04/bad-storm-april-25th.html

http://georgiahomegarden.blogspot.com/2011/05/rain-is-good-thing.html

Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

Kris, thanks loads for the info on pollinating corn..I do declare, I'm old but still learning..don't know if I'll plant any corn, I'm limited with "Almost an Acre" :o)...guess I could make room if I really thought about it..:o)

Jennifer said...

Thanks, Kris!

I planted two more beds of corn a few weeks ago and tried spacing the seeds further apart (ten inches instead of four to six) hoping that more space would mean larger, stronger roots.

I planted the corn that fell over three to three-and-a-half inches deep as per the instructions on the back of the seed packet which was the deep end of the recommendation. Do you think deeper would be okay?

Thanks again,
Jennifer

Kris said...

Gingerbread - No problem, I am glad you found the information useful. Only an acre huh. :)

Jennifer - Ten inches is about how far I plant my seeds apart. My seeds recommend 1 to 1.5 inches deep on planting depth. 3 to 3.5 inches sounds deep to me, but maybe it is something specific to your variety. What variety is it?

Anonymous said...

I've had tassles on my corn for a couple of weeks but no silks. Today I noticed that several of the tassles have the "rice" hanging from them so I really dug around in there and couldn't find a single "hairball". Is that normal? Will the tassles keep growing anthers for a while until the silks catch up? I did notice smaller leaves starting to sprout in some of the joints...is that where the silks will form? Sorry for all the technical jargon! :)

Kris said...

Yes, sometimes it can take a while for the silks to form after the tassels. They should form towards the middle of the stalk. Just make sure the plants are getting plenty of water when the tassels are forming and you should see the silks shortly.

Carl Belken said...

Thank you for posting this helpful article. I fully intend to try this.I'm also going to subscribe to your Blog

My problem this year is the drought. I've been told that hot dry weather prevents pollination. It happens when the silk dries before the pollen enters it.

I plan to water heavily and as soon as the silks appear and the tassel is ready I'll hand pollinate. If I am successful I intend to do this every year.

I only have a small patch of corn so hand pollinating is doable for me. I am also 6'6" tall or used to be. I have shrunk a bit with age and compression of the bones. Reaching the tassles should not be a problem.

Kris said...

Carl - Thanks for the kind words and for following my blog. I have heard you can just tap the stalks or shake them and the pollen will fall out of the tassels onto the silks.

I like sprinkling the anthers for some reason, may not be necessary but I have had good success at it.

veronica james said...

I am a first time small gardener and I hand pollinated my corn this year and still had incomplete corn cobs. I know its because I didnt get enough pollen on the silks so I was wondering if I should rub the pollen in after sprinkling the tassle part 9n. Thoughts?

Kristen Erthum said...

Hey! Great article on pollination! I'm trying a variety called "On Deck" meant for containers, but I lost all of my tassels in a storm. Any idea where I can buy pollen?

Sarah O'Donnell said...

Thank you so much! I live in Wyoming, so the last snow comes in May and the first usually in September. I use a greenhouse to help extend the growing season a little. I have never grown corn before, but my youngest came home from school with a sproutling and begged me to put it in the greenhouse. It is doing great, but I didn't know how to pollinate it. I just finished using the technique you suggested. My son is going to be very happy to see corn on his plant. Thanks again!

Kris said...

Good deal Sarah, I am glad you found the information helpful. Good luck.

Katrina said...

Thank you for this explanation. I had no idea that you had to do this and I didn't know this is why my corn wasn't fully forming.

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