Sun in the sky, burgers on the grill, drink in hand. The only other thing to compliment this summer barbecue is some sweet, sweet corn on the cob harvested fresh out of your garden. But what happens if those summer dreams are put in jeopardy by corn that tassels too soon ?
You’ve worked so hard to grow these stalks of corn, and early tasseling could set off alarms in the head of any gardener. But, have no fear, early tasseling is not a death sentence to your corn. Even when it tassels a bit too early, it is still entirely possible to grow corn to its full potential. In this article, we’ll go over tasseling in-depth, how tall your corn should be when it tassels, as well as tips to grow the perfect ear of corn.
What Are Tassels?
Tassels are simply the name for the male flower of the corn plant. Tassels typically appear after the majority of the corn plant has finished growing. You’ll notice the tassels grow right at the top of the plant. They come in many colors; green, yellow, and even purple !
The tassel aims to deliver pollen to the female flower (otherwise known as the silk) on the same corn plant. The wind carries the pollen from the tassel to the silk, which enables the development of corn kernels. Without this pollination, the corn develops no kernels and is subsequently inedible.
Is My Corn Tasseling Too Soon?
While tasseling typically starts when most of the corn’s growing is completed (think around 4 to 5 feet for the average sweet corn), some gardeners might find that the tassels appear too early (around the time the corn is about 2 to 3 feet tall). Of course, for amateur corn farmers, this can be highly concerning. So you might be wondering if early tasseling is a telltale sign of misfortune for your corn.
Worry not- while early tasseling is a sign that the corn plant is experiencing stress, it is not a death sentence for your plant. You can still successfully grow corn even when it tassels a bit too early.
Being aware of the everyday stressors that cause premature tasseling is the first step in prevention. So let’s take a look at some examples of stressors that can cause this premature tasseling in the first place, so you can be prepared if this happens to your corn.
Cold temperatures are a common cause of stress for your corn. As a summer crop, corn grows best in warmer temperatures. However, a random chill can stress your corn enough into growing tassels too early during springtime. Of course, we can’t control the weather, but we can mitigate the risk of corn experiencing stress from the cold. You can help regulate soil temperatures by either mulching or placing a black plastic tarp around the base of your corn plants.
Drought is another cause of premature tasseling. Corn naturally has shallow roots, making it more susceptible to drought stress. If you live in a hot climate, you should take more time to water your corn and monitor the soil to ensure that it has not dried too quickly. Corn should have at least one inch of water per week. Again, placing mulch around the base of your corn not only regulates temperatures in the soil but also retains moisture by slowing down evaporation.
A third reason your corn might be tasseling too early is insufficient nutrients in the soil. Corn has discerning tastes when it comes to the ground. Corn plants like to grow in soil that is densely rich in nutrients. Without these nutrients, you run the risk of early tasseling. Before planting your corn, work in some aged compost into your soil mix. If you want to fortify the nutrients in your soil, you can opt you treat your corn plants with fertilizer as well. Then, you can treat your corn with a balanced fertilizer (a 10:10:10 NPK ratio works well).
To reiterate: just because your corn tassels are too early does not mean your dreams of harvesting fresh corn have to come crashing down. Most of the time, corn that has premature tasseling still grow to their full height and are fully capable of producing delicious ears of corn.
Tips to Grow The Perfect Corn
Hopefully, we’ve quelled any concerns you might have about the size of your corn when it tassels. However, that’s only half of the battle. Following these helpful tips will ensure you have a corn harvest that’s the envy of all your neighbors.
Plant your corn in “blocks.” corn is unique compared to other crops as it is pollinated by the wind instead of pollinating animals such as honeybees and hummingbirds. Growing your corn in tightly-knit blocks heightens your chance of pollination. New corn gardeners often will grow their corn in one or two skinny rows, which doesn’t always provide the best opportunity for the wind to carry the pollen from the tassel to the silk. For example, instead of two rows of eight corn plants each, the odds of pollination increase if you plant the corn in four rows of four.
Corn has a sensitive, shallow root system. As a result, starting your corn plants indoors and transplanting is not recommended, as the corn seedling is less likely to survive the transfer. Instead, space your corn plants about 8 to 12 inches apart from one another.
Occasionally, you might notice that your corn plant has roots growing above the soil. Don’t let this shock or worry you- these are called aerial roots. Their sole purpose is to stabilize the stalk as it grows taller and taller; they do not absorb any water or soil nutrients.
To prevent damage from exceptionally high winds, I would recommend mounding soil around the base of your corn plant when it is about 12 inches tall. This acts as a fortifier and keeps the stalks standing up straight; after all, you wouldn’t want all that hard work to waste because of some wind!
You might think corn is delicious, but so do the local animals in your neighborhood! Corn is susceptible to attracting wildlife such as deer and raccoons, who like to make a snack out of your corn plant. The best natural defense against these unwanted visitors is to scatter either human-scented items (worn clothing works well), coyote urine spray, or blood meal.
Avoid watering your corn overhead; try to aim at the base of the corn. Overhead watering can increase the odds of your corn being affected by a fungus known as downey mildew. You can also prevent mold on your corn stalks by spacing your corn plants properly to allow airflow and circulation between plants.
Corn ears mature faster when the air temperatures are warmer. Once you notice silking on your corn stalks, you can expect to harvest the corn ears around 15 to 23 days after. To properly pull your corn off of the stem, grab the ear, pull downward, and twist; the ear should pop right off! Corn begins to lose its sweet flavor quickly after being harvested from the stalk, so I suggest you eat it quickly to get the maximum flavor payoff.
What used to be a vegetable you’d only see being grown on farms, corn is an up-and-coming crop in the backyard of many home gardeners, both casual and advanced. And who can blame them when it’s so easy to grow corn?
I hope this article has cleared up some worries gardeners have about corn tasseling. Ideally, your corn should tassel when the stalk is almost at its peak height. However, if you fear your corn stalks are tasseling when your corn is too short, don’t fret. Your corn is most likely to continue growing despite the premature tasseling, and now you have this vast wealth of knowledge to troubleshoot any issues you might run into.
Boeckmann, Catherine. “Corn: Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Sweet Corn.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac. https://www.almanac.com/plant/corn
Nielsen, R.L. Bob, “Tassel Ears in Corn.” Agronomy Department of Purdue University. https://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/timeless/TasselEars.html
Nielsen, R.L. Bob, “Tassel Emergence and Pollen Shed.” Agronomy Department of Purdue University. https://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/timeless/Tassels.html
Patterson, Susan. “Problems With Corn: Information on Early Corn Tasseling.” Gardening Know-How. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/corn/early-corn-tasseling.htm
“When Will a Corn Plant Tassel?” SF Gate. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/corn-plant-tassel-59512.html