How Young Corn Grows Up

Follow growth stages of corn to get a handle for how your 'children' are doing.

Published on: May 21, 2012

Dave Nanda has seen more than 50 corn crops come and go since he arrived in this country from Indiana and began his studies in agronomy and plant breeding at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1960s. He was employed by several major companies, spending 18 years at Stewart Seeds before they were purchased by Monsanto. He developed a large number of his own hybrids. So it's not hard to understand why sometimes he thinks of corn as his children!

Today, Nanda, director of genetics and technology for Seed Consultants, Inc. still believes farmers ought to know how corn develops, especially in the early stages. Just as much of a child's personality is shaped by genetics tempered by environment, the same is true for corn plants, he says. You can either do things that make the environment more hostile and signal the plant to produce less, or make the environment more friendly and help the corn thing it can produce more kernels because it is in a good situation for reproduction.

How Young Corn Grows Up
How Young Corn Grows Up

Here are some examples. For example, farmers who understand that V1 and V2 growth stage often provide fertilizer as starter close to the roots. Roots are very small, but once they find fertilizer, it stimulates early growth.

Second, Nodal roots replace seminal roots somewhere around the V3 to V4 stage. The nodal roots are the permanent roots that will carry the plant the rest of the season. So if you still believe in cultivating, don't cultivate too close to the roots, so stay away from the plants, at this stage, or you may damage the roots.

Third, the growing point is protected from frost and insects for three to four weeks, coming above ground about the V5 stage. One wouldn't think frost would be an issue given the year we've had, but that's exactly why it may yet be an issue. It's a year acting like it's all out of whack. Frosts as late as June 21 in the last couple decades have nipped corn leaves. How much damage they did depended upon whether the growing point was above the ground or not.

BY the V5 stage, with five leaves with collars clasp around the stem, the first node of roots comes above the ground. It's actually the fifth node of roots, with the rest anchoring the plant, assuming there has been no insect feeding, most typically from corn rootworm. Hatch was a full three to four weeks early this year, so if there are problems, they should show up early.

Even at the 5th leaf stage, leaf and ear shoots are developing. What happens here from an environment standpoint can affect Nanda's 'children,' no matter how good the genetics are.