hand pollinating corn

phantom_white(6)February 20, 2009

I know this has been asked before, but I couldn't find a specific answer on the FAQ. I need help with terms for the different parts of the corn plant and detailed instructions on how to do it.

What is the top part of the stalk called? You know, that part with the pollen on it. And when I pollinate, which part do I dust the pollen onto? Is it where the tassel comes out of the stalk or the tips of the tassel?



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Abby -- you have the right terminology for the "top" -- it's called the tassel. This is the male flower, which produces the pollen.

The female flower is the corn silk that comes out of the ears. THIS is the part you want to apply the pollen. You should apply the pollen as soon as the silk emerges from the husk, and ideally, every day for about 3 days.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 11:20AM
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Thank you denninmi!
I had the silk and the tassel confused.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 11:45AM
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Each tiny silk goes to one kernal of corn. Corn is wind pollinated but if you have only a small patch, just walk thru the patch with your arms extended to shake the stalk. this will cause pollen to fall. It lookes like a fine dust when it falls.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 11:56AM
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If one end of the patch is frequently upwind, I can imagine its ears wouldn't get pollinated as well. I would shake pollen onto something and transfer it to the silk by hand. But everything downwind could just be pollinated by shaking the tassels.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 3:55PM
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Inhale while you do your pollinating since corn pollen smells wonderful.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 9:45PM
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You can hand pick tassels and gently rub on the silk.Morning time around 10 A.M. is good for hand pollination.In half an hour or so you will see silk changing color to brown, sign of successful pollination.You may repeat the process for few days. Tassels remain usable for about 4 to 5 days.In case if needed you may pick up the tassels from any plant to use on the plant that has no tassels available.This way corn-cobs get fully filled with kernels.To my surprise I have found hardly any damage done by insects in hand pollinated corn.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 10:02PM
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Wow! I've been growing corn for a few years and never knew most of the stuff in these replies! Thank you all!


    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 1:49PM
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I like your garden idea's phamtom white, I got some good ideas from it but as confused as some Im wondering how soon will the corn appear after the the showing of the tassel. Any clues? I do see shoots looking like the barrel of a shot gun, are they the cornstalk?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2009 at 5:35AM
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anney(Georgia 8)


FWIW, when you hand-pollinate your corn, it's recommended to do it when the plants are dry, simply so the pollen can drift or fall from the tassels freely and so the silks aren't clumped together by moisture, which could prevent some of the silks from being pollinated, giving you kernel-gaps in your harvested ears!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2009 at 7:36AM
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anney(Georgia 8)

You may need to protect your corn against corn ear worms or other worms that enter the corn ears and eat the kernels. We've all seen them when we husk fresh garden corn.

The site below describes how the worms get into the corn and some controls. They recommend vegetable or mineral oil and BT, but I've seen many claims of success with the oils alone. You just put a few drops of the oil where the silks enter the husk and it runs down the silks into the ear and smothers any worms that might be present. I've even seen one post or site where the person used regular cooking spray on the tops of the ears. I guess there's more than one way to skin a cat!

At any rate, since you say this is your first time growing corn, I thought I'd add this tidbit since you at least deserve to have corn that hasn't been chomped on by worms!

Here is a link that might be useful: Protecting Sweet Corn from the Corn Earworm

    Bookmark   May 8, 2009 at 7:50AM
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Thank you Anney, Interesting, I was wondering about the oil and how much and its a good thing I read the link you suggested as I would have put the oil on to soon. I guess thats what I'll try. Im still courious on how long it will take the silks to show after the showing on the tassels. any clues?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2009 at 2:09PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


I think the tassels and silks occur almost simultaneously on corn plants long before the kernels start to fill out in the ears after being pollinated, though to be honest I haven't specifically noticed if there's a time lag of one or the other. (I'll bet somebody here does know!) I just know that when the silks need to be pollinated, the tassels start showering pollen!

I'm glad you mentioned WHEN the oil should be applied. I didn't know that specifically either, but the link says two days after full-silking, though how you can tell that is anybody's guess.

The clue they mentioned that I CAN recognize is when the tassels are just beginning to turn brown. That must mean that the pollination process is over, the silks aren't needed anymore so lose their vitality, and the kernels will continue to develop from nutrients provided by the cob.

That's a good time to kill the worms. They won't likely be large yet, and they'll probably all be clustered at the top where they entered the ears, easy targets for the oil.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2009 at 2:33PM
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Hi Anney, Interesting link follows but thoughts of pertecting the pollin are of concern, Oh I might also add the idea of only adding three drops to the female flowers as this is what I have read. Your thoughts?
What a beautiful day in the neighborhood, 6:10 am with the skys looking violet blue...I love this time of the morning for the inspection of the corn although they say to walk your garden after the dew has become dry brushing the stalks as this to will help in pollinating your corn that is if your amle flowers are pollinating. Im hoping to post some pics soon as my plant are about 6 foot tall. Suggestions welcome

Here is a link that might be useful: Hand pollinatin Sweet corn vidio

    Bookmark   May 9, 2009 at 6:19AM
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I live in s. Georgia and have been growing backyard corn for a number of years. Silver Queen has been of choice for as long as I can remember now.
I have read (here as well)that corn should be rowed with 3ft spaces between the rows for optimum performance. I, like a lot of people are cramped for space, and me trying to get more out of less has slowly evolved into the following type plot.
My plot serves two purposes; food and fun of course, and also serves as a privacy type fence. The plot is about 25' in length and 3' wide. I have 3 rows of corn; one on each of the extreme edges and one right down the middle. I spaced the seeds by site 10" apart for each of the three rows and the crop is well over 6ft tall and now is starting to show tassels.
I find the use of mineral oil interesting. I have always planted right at last frost and sometimes had to place a plastic barrier during a few close calls. I have noticed that this is the most effective way of pest control but I still dust lightly towards the end... I think I will try the oil this year. Thank you all for the information.
My question is this; am I losing out in anyway by not spacing my rows 3ft apart? I do shake my corn to facilitate pollination and my yeild has always been outstanding and full. 2% at most of a yield may be culled because of insects or insufficient pollinating......which I dont consider that to be even worth mentioning- any private grower would be happy with even less percentiles.
My next question to anyone out there is; my neighbor says I do not have to shake my corn or rubb the tassels on the silks because I grow "Siver Queen." He adds that this is a hybrid variety and hybrids dont have to be pollinated. I didnt believe this; however, he said in such a knowledgeable fashion that I became confused. Is this true.........have I been going thru a lot of trouble for nothing? (lol)

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 5:53PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


Yes, Silver Queen and all other hybrid corn must be pollinated, though I agree that you don't really have to shake the corn or do anything else to pollinate it. Some people do to make sure as many grains get pollinated as possible, but I just let the breezes of nature do the pollinating for me since I plant my corn at about 8" each way in blocks. So, that's up to you.

If spacing your corn rows at 3' and shaking the stalks gives you nice full ears, I wouldn't change a thing! Tell your neighbor he might be right if you planted your corn in rows that are closer together, but since you don't, you're making sure it's as good as it can be. And give him a half-dozen ears later to prove it!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 6:39PM
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medcave(8 Tx)

The way I read Eric's post is that he has 3 rows planted in that 3' strip - "I have 3 rows of corn; one on each of the extreme edges and one right down the middle."

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 1:29PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


Yes, you're right! Eric has them planted more closely than I understood, though I plant mine a little closer!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 4:33PM
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Thank you all for your input.........it was much appreciated. Makes me feel better.........knowing that some people plant there corn closer together than I do in the rows. I will give my neighbor some of the harvest as always. Come to think of it; he never says a negative word when its picking time. BTW: whom ever took the sun away last sunday .... can u bring it back?

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 9:37PM
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im growing my corn in the backyard of my appartment and i have a fence in the way of getting any good wind coverage for my corns pollination. i assume i will try to cut off a piece of the tassle and rub on the silk as described before in this blog but my question is dose anyone have a good way to get rid of earwigs (or pincher bugs by another name) because iv been told they will be a problem because they are down by the silks coming up from the ears. also my corn is not all tall. some of it is over 6 feet tall and some under 4 feet. it all gets the same amount of water and organic mirical grow vegetable feed spray as well as the same amount of sun. any thought??

    Bookmark   June 29, 2010 at 5:13PM
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Hi everyone and nice to meet you! I found this forum while searching for info about my sweet corn, and found all this info amazing, thank you! It seems perfect timing here for me to be applying the oil, and I never would have known if I hadn't found this forum. Timing is everything!
I have the same situation and curiosity as syder and really look forward to your answers!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 12:41AM
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