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Early stand establishment pays dividends

young corn
1ST REWARD: A good stand of corn up and growing well is your first reward for a job well done. But it’s also only a job half done. Stay vigilant during the rest of the season.
Corn Illustrated: Well begun is half done when it comes to growing corn.

When I was growing up, Dad would say, “Son, work hard in anything you do in life, and you will be rewarded. Remember, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap!’” I always remembered his words, and it works most of the time.

Soon, you will get the planter ready, including test planting to make sure all parts work properly. Then you will wait on Mother Nature for breaks to plant at the right time. You pick the right seeds for your farm, the right population, and plant at a uniform depth and the correct down pressure so all seedlings hopefully will pop up virtually together.

You’re so happy when you can see corn plants. These little seedlings are like puny little “babies” trying to get a glimpse of the sun. Genetics wrapped up in those seedlings give them their potential, and you will provide nutrients for their growth.

Critical stage

The seedling stage is the most critical phase for a corn plant. Let’s take a closer look.

Corn seedlings need 110 to 120 growing degree days to emerge. Seedlings emerge when the coleoptile, a spearlike leaf, pierces the ground. First and second leaves develop six to seven days after seedlings emerge.

First roots supply water and nutrients to young seedlings. Roots are very small, and banded fertilizer close to the roots should stimulate early growth.

About two weeks after emergence, the third leaf starts developing. Seedling roots stop developing, and secondary roots known as nodal roots start growing. These become the permanent root system.

We must control weeds at this stage. Even small weeds can affect yield, because neighboring corn plants sense the presence of another plant through light reflectance.

Don’t cultivate too close to plants after this stage because roots may get damaged.

Hail or freezing may hurt leaves, but the growing point isn’t damaged since it’s below ground. Don’t start thinking about replanting at this stage. The growing point stays below ground for three to four weeks and is protected from frost and insects on the surface.

Next phase

Nodal roots start taking responsibility of gathering water and nutrients for the plant. Root hairs also start growing now.

Four nodes develop below ground. The first node above ground is generally the fifth node. Even at this early stage, leaf and ear shoots start developing. That’s why you must take good care of young plants.

At seedling emergence, young plants face many hurdles, such as nutrient deficiencies, seedling diseases like pythium and Stewart’s bacterial blight, slugs, and insects like black cutworms.

Later, corn rootworm beetle larvae attack roots during June and early July. Adult rootworm beetles and Japanese beetles can clip silks and may interfere with pollination during July and early August.

Watch out for these bugs if you’re using GMO corn where the trait fails or non-GMO corn if you haven’t used insecticide. Early in the season, watch for slimy slugs, which appear harmless but can cause considerable damage.

Sidedress with nitrogen before plants are too tall if you’re going to apply additional nitrogen. Be sure to check for deficiency of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, zinc and magnesium as the season progresses.

Just remember, it all started with planter prep. Early stand establishment is essential for high yields.

Nanda is director of genetics for Seed Genetics-Direct, Jeffersonville, Ohio. Email [email protected] or call 317-910-9876.

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