The Q&A Archives: Corn Ears Not Developing

Question: Every year my sweet corn stalks grow 7 or 8 feet tall and have a deep green color, but they get few ears and the ears that do form are small and not properly filled out with kernels. What can I do?

Answer: If the plants look healthy and are growing well, then you're giving them the right cultural conditions. Each stalk will only develop two ears, and the kernels won't fill out unless they're pollinated. Corn is wind-pollinated so be sure to plant your corn in blocks rather than in long rows -- that way, no matter which way the breeze blows, it will carry some pollen to neighboring plants.

Each silk is connected to a single kernel on the cob. When the tassels are mature they will produce tiny dust-like yellow pollen. A pollen grain must touch each individual silk and be transported down to the immature seed on the cob. When your corn tassels are ripe and begin to shed pollen, you can help the process along by gently shaking each stalk, to help the pollen drop down to the silks. Or, you can break off a tassle and brush it against the silk of each ear on each stalk. It's time-consuming, but for small plantings it can dramatically increase pollination.

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