Common Corn Growing Problems

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Root Rot: If you have cool, moist soil, watch out for this problem. Improve soil drainage with compost and wait for soil temperatures to regulate.
Rust/Leaf Blight: Warmer, wetter parts of the country have problems with these diseases. There are many blight resistant varieties available. Ask your local nursery for recommended cultivars.

Wireworms/White Grubs: These pests come from soils recently planted with sod or alfalfa. Look for birds feeding on the grubs. Tilling and planting with a cover crop, such as winter peas, can help with this problem.

Corn rootworm beetles: This pest goes after corn silk on maturing cornstalks. They can cause problems with pollination. The immature beetles can be found in old corn fields, and when mature, they migrate to feed on tender, new corn. Keep on the lookout as your corn first starts to produce silk.

Corn Smut: This is a fungus that causes the kernels to swell and turn grey and black. In Mexico, it is called Huitlacoche and is consumed as a delicacy. Ask your local extension agent or nursery for smut resistant varieties. Corn smut is more common on white varieties. You can remove the smut by hand and you should destroy it so that it won’t infect other corn plants. If you’re curious, you can actually harvest the smut before it turns black and dries out. Check out this article from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on the economic importance of Huitlacoche in Mexico: sweetcorn.uiuc.edu/Common-smut/Huitlacoche-WSMBMP.doc. Also see Aztec Gardens for more information on this unusual food.

European corn borers: These pests bore into the stalks and can weaken them to the point of breakage. The larva is cream colored and they are about 1” long. They may eventually work their way into the corn cob. Their eggs begin to hatch in June.
Fall armyworms: This moth lays small pinkish eggs on corn leaves. Adult worms are less than two inches long. They have a Y shaped marking on the head. Late sweet corn is especially susceptible. You can plant early to avoid this pest, as armyworms are at their worst in the late fall.

Flea beetles: These pests attack in the early spring and can carry Stewart’s bacterial wilt disease. This disease will eventually stunt the growth of young corn. Ask your nursery for disease resistant varieties.

Corn earworms: These are brownish, flying moths that will lay eggs in corn silk. They are active mostly at night. The worms will feed on the tips of the ears. You’ll usually not find more than one caterpillar per ear as they are known to devour each other when there is competition. You can avoid this pest with a bit of mineral oil in the tip of the silk tube, or by sealing off the husk with a rubber band. Pheromone traps placed around the cornfield are also an effective control.

Birds: Birds such as crows are common pests for corn farmers. You can use reflective bird tape throughout the rows to scare them off and confuse them. A good old fashion scare crow is also effective.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

maria April 13, 2011 at 1:43 am

i plant some corn and I just notice that the point of the leaves are getting a little brownish and yelowish.
What could cause that problem? is it related w defficency of minerals? What can i use to help them?

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Katherine June 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I planted sweet corn in late May, the plants looked wonderful and produced a couple of 3 inch long ears, but nothing else. Now the plants are looking as if they are spent with a few ‘empty’ ears on some of the plants. What has gone wrong?

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Gerald July 18, 2011 at 9:49 pm

The ears of corn are small about 5″ long.
What can I do to make them grow 9″ or longer?

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dan November 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm

The most productive manner in curing small plants is to make sure that they are watered well (more is better) and spread out to at least 6″between plants, as for lack of green in coloration, yellow usually means a Nitrogen deficiency, and purple which can be misconstrued as “brown” is usually the result of a potassium deficiency.

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dan November 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I would like to correct a mistake I made, instead of potassium, it should be phosphorus that the plants are deficient in if showing purple-ish coloration.

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betty April 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm

how do i get rid of these bugs that look like they have pinchers. they get inside of the corn and eat it.

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Nona Bussell May 10, 2012 at 2:48 am

My new corn plants were about 3 inchs tall.I went to check on my garden,and found all the young plants laying on the ground.There was a round hole in the ground about the size of a half dollar where the plant was.the plants looked like they had been cut off.Any idea what could have caused this?

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terry benson May 20, 2012 at 8:32 pm

planted golden queen corn 3 weeks ago , but nothing has come up. How long should it take?

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