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Make sure to plant corn for wind pollination

Published: Thu, June 6, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Q. The corn in our community garden did not have a lot of kernels on it last year. Was it the dry weather?

Kathy from Youngstown

A. The dry weather could have impacted pollination of your sweet corn, but that is most likely not the situation with a small garden that has access to water. The drought conditions present last year would be just one part of the equation.

Sweet corn needs consistent water during pollination. When you see silks emerging from the ears, it is time to add water if the weather is not cooperating. Provide at least an inch of water per week for proper kernel fill on the ear.

Another issue may include overcrowding of plants. Sweet-corn plants should be about 9 inches apart within the row. This may vary depending on the variety you are planting. Taller heirloom varieties may need even more room between plants.

The major issue I see in home gardens has to do with planting corn for wind pollination. Many community gardens do not have significant space to plant a lot of sweet corn, which takes too much room. In gardens where sweet corn is planted, I often see one to two rows planted because of space issues.

In small garden spaces, rows do not work for sweet corn. The corn must be planted in squares. Plant sweet corn in short rows (at least four feet long) and at least four of these rows to allow for wind-blown pollen to reach each ear on each of the sweet corn plants in the garden. Pollen is light and rarely falls straight down to the ground. Our experts say that 97 percent of the silks of one corn plant are pollinated by pollen from other plants.

For details on planting sweet corn, visit go.osu.edu/SweetCorn.

Eric Barrett is an OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Mahoning County.

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