The Q&A Archives: Corn Fungus

Question: I created a new garden two years ago. I amended the soil using composted horse manure (the king with sawdust instead of straw). I have planted corn in the garden both years and have ended up with small stalks and ears of fungus nor corn. The ears start out loking good then all of a sudden the kernels start to turn into a puffy fungus that, until you open the ear, you can not tell is not corn. The garden is watered by mother nature only after they sprout in the spring. Up till then I provide them with 'city' water. Is the problem with the type of manure I am using or is it something else. The first year corn and stalks were not composted back into the garden so not to spread the fungus. The other corps, tomatoes, peppers (hot & bell), onions, beens, pumpkins, cucumbers, sunflowers, squash, and mellons were not effected (at least it did not look like it). Please let me know.

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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