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Corn Sex: How to Pollinate Corn

When it comes to corn sex, the backyard gardener needs to lend a hand.

Unlike many plants that are pollinated by insects, corn is pollinated by the wind. First, the male part of the plant, “tassels,” emerge from the top of the corn stalk.

 

corn pollination

Corn Tassels

The female parts, or silks, emerge lower on the corn plant out of the soon-to-be ears of corn.

corn pollination

Corn silks

When a pollen grain lands on an individual silk, a tube is formed in the silk and genetic material is transferred to the ovary. A kernel of corn forms containing genetic material of both parents.   

Becuase each silk will form one kernel of corn, all of the silks have to be pollinated in order to have ears of corn packed with kernels. If there is insufficient pollination you will get spotty corn. 

In a large field of corn, the agitation created by the wind will sufficiently spread the pollen (corn pollen can travel up to 1/2 mile). In your backyard, the pollen may blow into the neighbor’s yard completely bypassing the silks. Help pollinate your corn by following the below directions.

how to pollinate corn

In a field this large, wind does all of the pollination dirty work for you.

How to Pollinate Corn

  1. Tassels usually emerge a few days before the silks. Wait until the silks have emerged before beginning this process. Remove a handful of pollen by hand. It is best to do this in the early morning on a dry day.
    corn tassels

    Collect the corn pollen early in the day. Pollen that is ready will detach easily.

     

  2. Spread the pollen over the corn silks. Make sure to spread it among different corn plants (of the same variety) to increase genetic diversity (especially if you are saving seed).
    corn pollination

    Sprinkle the pollen over the silks.

     

  3. Repeat this process regularly until all of the silks have turned brown (in about one week).

    When all of the silks have turned brown pollination is complete.

     

  4. Resist the urge to peel the husk off of your corn until it is time for harvest. If you are growing sweet corn, you will harvest about two weeks after pollination.

    corn pollination

    I know you’re excited to see what’s under those husks.

A Few Notes on Pollination and seed saving

Corn is not monogamous and mixes with other plants easily. To save corn seeds for future plantings, you need to ensure your plants do not cross-pollinate.

If you only grow one variety of corn (and your neighbors do not have any corn plants) this is not an issue.

If you want to grow multiple corn varieties try staggering the planting of the varieties by three to four weeks. this way pollen from one variety will be spent before the other varieties create silks. Chop the tassels off of the first variety after pollination.

 One last note on Corn Seeds

Unfortunately, the majority of commercially grown corn is genetically modified, this process is a threat to the environment, our seed heritage and possibly to our health. Growing your own corn and saving the seeds is the best way to have access to non-GMO corn. Source your seeds from one of the companies listed on my post:

8 Seed Companies With More Than Great Packaging

Or, click on the images below to purchase heirloom seeds directly.

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