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Corn crop frustrations due to early tasseling

corn crop, field of corn with tassels

Growing your own vegetables is a hobby I highly recommend. Even if your space is limited, you can use containers or smaller plots of land to grow food. We could do an entire series on the havoc a contaminated food supply has wreaked upon human health in America. Using non-GMO seeds (which is different from hybridized seeds, which are not dangerous) to produce homegrown food can improve your family’s health. While corn might not be the healthiest type of vegetable available, it sure is delicious on a summer day! It’s exciting to watch a corn crop grow, except when it tassels too early, as my corn appears to be doing this year.

It’s important to understand what corn crop tassels are and what can cause premature tasseling. Early tasseling is one of the most common frustrations among home gardeners who grow corn. Is there anything that can be done to save a crop once tassels have appeared before the stalks have achieved their full height? To determine that, we need to discuss corn care, maturity, silking, pollination and more.

Corn crop tassels have a purpose

corn crop, stalk with tassels

It’s a beautiful sight to see a corn crop swaying in a summer breeze under the noon-day sun. You might have seen tassels on corn plants that are yellow, green or purple. The tassel on a stalk of corn is the male flower part of the plant. It typically appears after the corn plant is done growing tall. Corn tassels have a special job to do. They produce pollen. The pollen on a corn plant is what sparks the ears (cobs) to grow and ripen. Pollen is carried (by wind, mostly) to the silk (female flower part of the plant). Some time later, you’ll be harvesting your corn crop to freeze, can or add to the grill on your next cookout!

Growing corn is fairly easy to do

shower of water from water can nozzle pouring on green plants

A corn crop needs a lot of moisture to be healthy. This is especially true if you live in an area where there is low humidity. Most gardening experts agree on how much water corn needs to produce a good crop. You should aim for at least an inch per week until your crop is close to 15 inches tall, then an inch every five days until tassels appear. After tasseling, it’s best to continue to provide an inch of water every three days until the harvest.

Early tasseling on a corn crop is a sign of stress

There’s a beautiful balance that exists on a corn plant while it grows to maturity. The silking, tasseling and pollination process occurs naturally and, in good conditions, produces a bountiful harvest. There are several reasons why a corn crop might tassel too soon. In my particular case, I planted late due to harsh, cold temperatures and we experienced intermittent freezing temperatures after the garden was planted. Being exposed to cold early in a growing season is one of the most common reasons corn will tassel early.

In addition to temperatures that are too cold, a drought or nutrient deficiencies as well as hot/dry conditions (meaning you don’t water your crop when there’s no rainfall) can greatly stress a corn crop. These problems can also cause premature tasseling.

And now, the good news!

corn crop, ear of corn with silk on stalk

If your corn crop tassels too early in the growing season, your stalks might not reach their full growth potential. It’s disappointing and frustrating to see stunted plants after all of your hard work. Don’t lose hope, though! Corn that has tasseled too soon can still produce a harvest! You might not get as many ears per stalk since the crop didn’t achieve its full height, but if you take steps to alleviate the plant’s stress, you might still enjoy a harvest!

Addressing the problem of an early-tasseling corn crop

If you notice that your plants are stunted and are getting tassels too soon, observe the leaves to see if they’re turning yellow. If so, it means you’re likely dealing with a nitrogen deficiency. You can trouble-shoot this issue by side-dressing your plants with aged compost. You can also use fish emulsion or a compost tea to water the crop.

Do some research on the growing season in your area, as well as proper corn crop care. If your plants need more water, that’s an easy fix. If you think it’s a fertilizer issue, you can easily resolve that problem, as well. It’s also important to manage pests, especially if your garden is chemical-free (which I hope it is!). Corn worms, Japanese beetles and other pests can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time to a field of corn. Be diligent! Get out there every day or, at least, every other, and check every plant.

Reaping the harvest

ears of corn in large pot of water

When conditions are right, corn is typically ready to harvest approximately 20 days after you notice the first silks. During those 20 days is when pollination from tassel to silk occurs, then development of the ears. If you think about it, that’s really fast and pretty amazing! When the silks turn brown, harvest time is near. Before picking, do a milk test.

To test for harvest readiness, you’ll want to puncture a kernel of corn to check for a milky liquid inside. If you notice liquid but it’s clear rather than milky, your crop isn’t ready. If there’s no liquid at all, you’ve unfortunately left the ears on the stalks too long. As a side note, you can cut up your corn stalks after harvesting to use in a compost pile. In this way, a garden crop from one year is contributing to soil amendment for the next.

What’s your favorite way to prepare your corn crop for eating? I love to blanch the ears in boiling water, then cut off the cob. I stir large batches of corn with some fresh butter, salt and pepper, then place in gallon-sized freezer bags. There’s nothing like enjoying the taste of fresh, homegrown corn on a cold winter’s night! If you have helpful tips for growing corn, we’d love to hear about them!

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