How Is Corn Pollinated {Methods, Tips & Tricks}

Corn (or maize) is such a popular veggie/grain, and it would be great if it were easy to grow, but the fact is, it can get pretty complicated. One of the main concerns when growing corn is making certain is pollinates successfully. If it doesn’t, all your hard work will have been for naught. You’ll have tall green stalks and no ears of corn. In this article, we discuss the most popular and successful methods of corn plant pollination. Read on to learn more on how is corn pollinated.

How Is Corn Naturally Pollinated?

how is corn naturally pollinated

It may surprise you to know that corn is actually a member of the grass family. Corn plants are monoecious.

This means that they produce both male and female “flowers”, though you may not immediately recognize them as such.

The male flowers are tassels that look like grass that has gone to seed. The tassels appear on top of the corn stalk.

When they ripen, they shed pollen which falls and is blown by the wind and carried to female “flowers”, which grow on immature corn ears.

Female corn flowers are the corn silks, which are long, fine, hair-like growths that transform into kernels of corn once they have been pollinated.

Each fine strand of silk has the potential to become a kernel of corn, but each one must be pollinated individually.

When a mote of pollen comes in contact with a strand of corn silk, the task is accomplished, but this is not as easy as it sounds.

For it to happen successfully, naturally, the wind has to be blowing just right; the weather can’t be too wet or humid; the plants have to be the right distance apart, and it has to be the right time of day.

Small Gardeners Must Lend A Helping Hand

small gardeners and corn

All of these conditions are challenging, but it is easier to set up just the right scenario in a large field of closely planted corn than in a small garden setting.

In your home garden, you will need to learn how to hand-pollinate your corn plants if you want a successful yield.

To do it correctly, you’ll need to learn to observe your corn plants carefully and time your actions for the greatest success. You must wait until the tassels at the top of your plants are completely open and are shedding yellow pollen.

This will happen a couple of days before the silk begins to emerge from the ends of the embryonic corn ears.

When you see the silk emerge, you can collect pollen from the male tassels to pollinate the female silks. You will need to do this every day for about a week.

Ideally, the weather should be clear and warm, and you must conduct your pollination between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. after all of the morning dew has dried up.

If you are unable to do your pollination in the morning, early evening, before dew begins to condense, is second best.

Pollination Methods: Corn

What Do You Have To Do To Hand Pollinate Corn?

Begin by carefully snapping the tassels of several of plants. Remember not to take them all at once because you’ll need to pollinate every day for a full week.

Use the tassels to dust pollen over the silks you’ll find emerging at the tips of the immature ears. Start at one end of the corn rows one day and the other end the next day. This practice helps ensure even distribution of the pollen.

This is the basic method for hand pollination in a small home garden. There are tips and tricks that are helpful for ensuring an even greater yield, especially in a larger planting.

Manual Corn Pollination

For example, to be sure of collecting all the pollen from your male tassels, you can place a paper bag over the tassel just before you begin pollinating.

Cut or snap the covered tassel off the stalk and shake it in the bag to prevent losing any pollen. Then you can just pour the pollen out of the bag onto the corn silks.

To ensure that every strand of silk comes in contact with pollen, you may want to cut the end off the immature ear of corn (as shown in the video above). This will expose all of the strands at once.

Every ear produces between 750 and 1000 strands of silk. Each one has the potential to become a kernel of corn, but it won’t if it’s not pollinated.

What If It Rains Or Is Damp During Pollination Week?

Wet weather may interfere somewhat with your pollination project. When the weather is dry, pollen can be blown as far as 600 feet by the wind.

When it’s wet, the male tassels’ production of pollen stops, and the existing pollen cannot be blown.

For the hand pollination process, damp weather means you will not have a viable source of pollen as long as the wet weather persists. This can mean low kernel set (production).

Even so, you’ll just have to persevere and seize the moments when the weather conditions are ideal for you to collect and distribute pollen.

Pollination Insights For Corn

How Can You Tell Pollination Has Been Successful?

You can take the wait-and-see approach by waiting ten days for kernels to appear on the ears. They will look like watery blisters. Open a test ear to see.

If you can’t wait ten days, after two or three days, you can open a test ear very carefully, so as not to damage the silk. Once you’ve gently removed the husk, allow the silk to hang down from the ear.

Give it a shake. Strands of silk that have been pollinated will fall away from the ear. If you have a high percentage of stubborn silk that stays on the ear, it may mean that you have not achieved complete pollination.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your project was a complete failure. It’s just one ear of corn. If you have a large enough field, take a few random samples to get a better idea of the big picture.

Frequently Asked Questions

how is corn pollinated Frequently Asked Questions
What is the term, “fertigation”?

Just as it sounds, this is the combination of fertilization and irrigation. Fertigation involves fertilizing crops through the irrigation system.

Is it true that fertigation can interfere with corn pollination?

This can be a problem if you don’t time it right. Pollination usually happens in the morning hours and at temperatures of 90°-95°F. At noon and during the hottest parts of the day, the heat actually kills the pollen. If you fertigate very early in the morning (before 6 a.m.) or late in the afternoon, the application of nitrogen and water should not interfere with pollination.

How many days will corn silks stay viable?

If you have a run of days between 90 and 95°F, your corn silks should stay viable, during the morning hours, for 3-4 days. During this period of time, take care not to water or fertigate from 6 a.m. to noontime.

Will just watering during pollination interfere with the process?

Watering during the tasseling, silking, pollination period could interfere by causing water stress. This can cause the silks and pollen grains to desiccate or fall apart causing failed pollination.

After successful pollination, how much rain will corn need?

Altogether, a high yield crop will need about twenty-five inches of water annually. Ten inches of this should come before tasseling.

For more advice on corn, read our latest article about storing fresh corn.


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