The Q&A Archives: Short, tasseling, poor germination of sweet corn

Question: For the last two years, the corn I planted (Burpee Breeder's Bicolor) has had a very poor germination rate Aprox. 30% and what does grow reaches a height of 2-3 ft. before tasseling. We live in the high desert of Ca. where it does get a bit warm in the summer so I do water more often (via soaker hose). We have used this corn variety before with excellent results which is why I'm baffeled. This plot of ground (which was garden area before) had been idle a few years until we started last year. We mulched all through this spring until planting season, again with lousy results. All the other plants are doing very well. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: Corn that hasn't reached it's full height before tasseling out usually indicates the plants are under stress. (The last thing an annual plant does is set seed before it reaches the end of its lifecycle - to ensure the next generation.) Corn is a heavy feeder, and requires a lot of water. Seeds germinate best in soils that are at least 60F degrees, so planting your seed too early in the season, or in soils that are cold and clammy may explain the poor germination rate. (Normal germination rate for corn is only about 75%) Plant the seeds one-inch deep in rich, loose soil. Corn will respond favorably to being planted in an area where previous crops included beans, alfalfa, or clover. These crops fix nitrogen in the soil, and corn needs an ample amount of nitrogen. Alternatives are to work compost or aged-manure into the soil prior to planting. Spread 3-4 inches of organic matter over the planting bed and work it in to a depth of 10-12 inches. Finally, corn needs about one-inch of water per week during the growing season. Soaker hoses may or may not provide the deep, thorough watering corn plants need. Check your application rate by digging down into the soil to see how far the water penetrates. It should thoroughly wet the root mass of the plants. To help your corn crop next season, plant a nitrogen-fixing cover crop this fall, and turn it over in the spring prior to planting. Wait until the soil is warm, plant your seeds, and provide ample water. Use a fish-based fertilizer when the stalks are 6-inches tall, and feed again when they're 18-20 inches tall.

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