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.
The female parts, or silks, emerge lower on the corn plant out of the soon-to-be ears of corn.
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
- 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.
- 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).
- Repeat this process regularly until all of the silks have turned brown (in about one week).
- 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.
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:
Or, click on the images below to purchase heirloom seeds directly.