The Q&A Archives: Corn Disease

Question: I have planted corn the past 4 years and for last 2 of those it seems to get some sort of fungus on it that looks black and is very noticeable. It seems to attack the stalk as well as the ears. We move the location we plant corn each year but, this doesn't seem to help. What causes this and what is it?

Answer: Sounds like a classic case of smut. Corn smut (Sphacelotheca reiliana) is a fungus that survives as spores in soil for 5 to 7 years. The spores are windblown so can travel far distances. Infection occurs at temperatures of 68F to 86F degrees. There are several corn varieties that are resistant to smut such as 'Reliance'. Try pre-germinating your seed between damp paper towels and then planting shallow (1 inch) in your soil. The seedling stage is the most susceptible stage. Keep the seedbed moist for the first 4 weeks after planting, and try to plant upwind of infected garden beds.

Hope you have a better harvest next year. Incidentally, corn smut is a trendy new food found on the menus of expensive restaurants!

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