As a gardener, it is important to understand the growth stages of the plants you are growing, so you can provide the right care and attention at the right time. Corn is a popular choice among home gardeners, but it can be a challenge to understand the growth process.
Corn takes two to three months to reach maturity. The growth stages of corn can be divided into two distinct stages: vegetative and reproductive.
The growth stages of corn, from seedling to harvest, are:
- Seed Germination
- First Leaf
- Tasselling and Pollination
- End of Leaf Production
- Kernel Development
- The Milk Stage
- The Dough Stage
- The Dent Stage
Let’s take a closer look at each stage of corn growth.
The first stage of corn growth begins with the germination of the seed, which typically takes around 7 to 10 days. However, This time frame varies based on soil and weather conditions and how deep the corn seed was planted.
You should plant your corn seeds at a depth of at least 1 to 2 inches, at the very end of winter or the beginning of spring. The soil should be fertilized before planting. Corn will thrive in loose and well-draining soil. If soil conditions are ideal the corn seed may germinate and emerge within 2-3 days, but it can take up to 14 days if the conditions are not ideal.
When planting your corn be sure to provide enough space between your plants 8-12 inches (20-30 cm). This ensures your corn plants have enough space to flourish and will help to prevent disease and improve pollination.
During germination, the corn seed will absorb water and oxygen, with the water causing the seed to break open. Once the corn seed has germinated, the corn seedling will emerge from the soil.
Vegetative Growth Stages
The growth stages of the tall and fast-growing corn plant can be divided into two distinct stages: vegetative (V phase), and reproductive (R phase). Corn plants will generally move through the vegetative stages of growth pretty quickly. Corn enters the reproductive stages of growth after tassel emergence, ending when the corn plant reaches maturity.
A handy trick to help you discern which stage of growth your corn plant is in is to count the ‘collars’ of the leaves. The collar is where the leaf sheath and the leaf join at the stem. If your corn plant has 6 collars, the plant is in V6 or vegetative stage 6.
The second stage of corn growth is the emergence of the plant above the soil. Once the seed has broken open, the corn plant’s nodal root system begins to develop. Emergence happens once the embryo grows enough to push the shoot or coleoptile through the soil.
3. First Leaf
The first leaf stage of corn growth is the period immediately following the emergence stage when the first true leaves begin to develop on the plant.
During this stage, the first true leaves are longer and wider than the initial cotyledon leaves and are responsible for producing food for the growing corn plant. These leaves have a different structure and shape compared to the cotyledon leaves and are typically green in color.
As the corn plant grows and expands, the root system reaches deeper into the soil, searching for water and nutrients. This helps the plant establish a strong foundation for future growth.
The corn plant will continue to grow, producing more leaves. It will enter into a rapid growth stage around 6 to 8 weeks after the emergence stage. Rapid growth occurs at least 2 weeks before the corn plant begins to flower. Once the plant has grown enough leaves (usually around 16-20), it will enter into the next stage of growth; tasselling and pollination.
4. Tasseling and Pollination
While the corn plant is growing leaves and tillers, the tassels are growing at the same time. However, the tassels do not become visible immediately. The tassels are the male flowers of the corn plant and are located at the top of the plant. They emerge from the growing point of the corn plant and grow upward.
Corn has separate male and female structures, called tassels (male) and ears (female). The ears will be visible down the length of the plant. The female structure is from which the plant will produce corn.
Once the corn plant reaches the tasselling stage, it will start to produce pollen. When the female flowers, called silks, develop on the ear of corn, pollen will be carried by the wind to them.
Pollination is an important step in the growth of corn, as it determines the number of kernels that will form on the ear of corn. During this stage, you should water your corn plants daily (0.30 inches), and ensure the plant is receiving enough nutrients.
5. End of Leaf Production
The end of leaf production in the corn growth stage marks the transition from the vegetative phase to the reproductive phase of the plant’s life cycle. The plant’s leaves may continue to get larger, but no new leaves will grow.
During this stage of growth, the plant begins to elongate and form the tassel, which is the male flower of the corn plant. The tassel will eventually release pollen for fertilization of the silks.
As the plant begins to grow, ear shoots appear, and silks, which are female flowers, begin to form at the ends of them. The silks will receive the pollen from the tassels, leading to fertilization of the ovules and the development of kernels.
The reproductive stages of corn refer to the process by which the corn plant produces seeds (kernels) for future generations. This process is critical for the growth and success of the corn crop and involves several distinct stages.
The first reproductive stage of grown growth is silking. This refers to the silk-like threads that the plant produces. The silks are the female flowers of the corn plant, located at the end of the ear shoots. They emerge from the ear shoots and grow out of the top of the husk.
The silks catch the pollen from the tassels. Pollen travels down to the silks and fertilizes the ovules, which will eventually develop into kernels.
7. Kernel Development
Kernel development is one of the most critical stages in the growth of corn, as it determines the quality and yield of the crop. During kernel development, the fertilized ovules located at the end of the silks, begin to develop into kernels.
During this stage, the plant will continue to grow and develop, and the kernels will start to fill with sugars and starches. As the kernels mature, the silks will begin to turn brown.
Blistering is a stage during the development of the kernels when the silks begin to dry out and appear darker. This stage begins roughly 12 days after the silking process. During this stage of kernel development, the kernels will be small, and white and will release a clear liquid when squeezed. The kernel at this stage is over 80% water.
9. The Milk Stage
The milk stage, or roasting ear stage, as it is referred to, is when the corn kernels begin to produce a milky fluid called “milk”. This milky liquid is rich in sugars, proteins, and other nutrients and is a key indicator of kernel maturity. During this stage, the kernels undergo significant changes in terms of size, weight, and nutritional content.
The milk stage begins when the corn kernels have grown and turned yellow. The milk will seep out of the corn kernel when squeezed. The milk will start to turn into starch, setting the scene for the next stage of development.
10. The Dough Stage
As the kernels fill with starch, a dough-like material gradually replaces the milky fluid. This dough-like material is the result of the conversion of sugars into starch. This process is essential for the proper maturation of the corn kernels.
The dough stage begins after the milk stage and continues until the kernels have reached their maximum size and weight. During this stage, the kernels are still growing and maturing, and their texture changes from soft to more firm, a dent begins to form at the top of the kernel. This change in texture is an indicator that the kernels are reaching maturity.
11. The Dent Stage
During the dent stage, the corn kernels continue to fill with starch, and their texture changes from firm to slightly soft in the center. This change in texture is referred to as the “dent,” indicating that the kernels are reaching maturity.
The final stage of corn growth is maturity, which is reached when the kernels have developed fully, and the silks have turned brown. A layer of cells known as the “black layer” begins to form at the base of the kernel, separating the kernel from the cob. This layer signals the end of kernel fill and the beginning of the maturity stage.
The corn plant begins to dry down as the leaves start to yellow and the stalk becomes more brittle. Additionally, the corn kernels will become firm and crunchy. This natural process allows the kernels to reach maturity and become ready for harvest.