What’s Eating My Corn? Answered!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had unknown critters in the garden gobbling up the corn harvest before I have the chance to put it on the dinner table. Last year we lost half of our yield to an unidentified assailant terrorizing the corn plants. Luckily, several pests and animals are nearly always to blame and are easily identifiable.

If something is eating your corn, the most probable suspects are corn earworms, cutworms, corn rootworm beetles, squirrels, raccoons, deer, or birds.

Let’s find out more about each garden pest and how you can protect your corn from being eaten by them.

Corn Earworms Are Eating Your Corn

Corn Earworms - What's Eating My Corn
Corn Earworms

Corn earworms graze on many crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn. They can consume the entire ear of corn over time and prefer to be active at night.

  • Identify earworms as the culprit early on.
  • Inspect corn for worms in the evenings.
  • Lightly move the soil to check for worms.

How To Keep Corn Earworms from Eating Corn

Identify corn earworms early on as the culprit who is eating your corn to prevent further damage. Use the following measures to prevent corn earworms:

  • Use mineral oil or vegetable oil and apply it to corn silk following pollination. Continue with additional applications after silking begins.
  • Till the fields to prevent a corn earworm infestation from taking hold.
  • Consider biological controls such as parasitic nematodes.
  • Purchase an organic pesticide like this one which will help eliminate caterpillars such as corn earworms.

Although non-organic pesticides could be considered if organic methods fail, I prefer to garden organically. Chemical treatments are not usually selective in what they treat and cause damage, and death, to beneficial insects and the environment. Non-organic pesticides are not required as organic ones are completely safe and effective!

Cutworms Are Eating Your Corn

Cutworm Caterpillar - What's Eating My Corn
Cutworm

Cutworms coil up into an easily identifiable C shape when threatened. Similar to corn earworms, cutworms favor nighttime activity. It’s preferable to check corn in the morning for damage if cutworms are suspected. They destroy the stems of corn plants, making all efforts in cultivating and caring for the corn ultimately futile.

How To Keep Cutworms from Eating Corn

Prevent cutworms from potentially taking hold of your corn by tilling the soil between seasons; removing plant debris and weeds so as not to unknowingly provide the larvae with shelter and a place to hide during the day.

Try these non-toxic methods if cutworms are gobbling up your corn too!

  • Remove cutworm larvae from the soil manually. Crush or plunge the larvae into soapy water to kill.
  • Destroy weeds and plant debris to eradicate any cutworm larvae that may be harboring inside to prevent future infestation.
  • Consider adding biological controls to inhibit larvae growth, namely parasitic nematodes.
  • Use an organic pesticide.

Corn Rootworm Beetles Are Eating Your Corn

Western Corn Rootworm Beetle
Western Corn Rootworm Bettle Eating Corn

The Corn Rootworm larvae can be a major cause of damage to the root of corn plants. Once the roots have been damaged, the corn plant will struggle to take up soil nutrients and water, making it’s health suffer.

Once the Corn Rootworm matures, Corn Rootworm Bettles will feast on your delicious corn, including the silks, tassels, pollen and the leaves of corn plants.

And to make this corn pest even more of a nuisance; they come in a few different species.

They are known as Western Corn Rootworms with adult beetles appearing as a tan color bodied beetle with black stripes. Southern Corn Rootworm beetles are green with black stripes or spots and they are also known as spotted cucumber beetle. While the Northern Corn Rootworm Beetle is a green-yellow colored beetle.

How to Keep Corn Rootworm Beetles from Eating Your Corn

If garden space allows, crop rotation will help prevent Corn Rootworms. The larvae hatch in the ground and if they can’t find food within 10-20 inches (20-50 cm), they’ll perish. Crop rotation will help disrupt the life cycle.

If you notice Corn Rootworm Beetles attacking your corn plants, try hand removing them and putting them in a bucket of soapy water. This method is labor intensive but is also natural and chemical-free.

Use covers over your corn plants to prevent the beetles from getting to your corn.

You can also plant early corn to avoid the Corn Rootworm beetles as they show up as the weather warms up.

Squirrels, Raccoons, and Deer Are Eating Your Corn

Squirrel Eating Corn
Squirrel Eating Corn

Squirrels are not picky eaters and are attracted to gardens, crops, and even trash bins. So your corn plants are attractive eating for squirrels. They eat the corn kernels and the husk. Squirrels usually leave evidence, such as pieces of corn, dispersed around the scene.

Raccoons are a menace both to trash bins and to gardens. Raccoons will gnaw at whatever they can find, including your corn! They are particularly messy eaters, leaving pieces of corn husks, stalks, and kernels scattered around.

Deers have a varied diet of greens, ripe fruits, bark, twigs, and leaves. A hungry deer can eat anything, including your corn. Deers will bite at corn stalks and walk away with bits of lovely corn husk and kernels as a nice snack.

  • Analyze the soil for prints or feces left by the animal intruder.
  • Look for disturbances to surrounding trees or vegetation, such as deer antler marks on trees.
  • Inspect crops thoroughly to note any reoccurring patterns, such as damage occurring only at night.
  • Be vigilant as you might catch the culprit at the scene.

How To Keep Squirrels, Raccoons, or Deer from Eating Your Corn

Deer in Corn Crop
Deer in a Corn Field

Reduce the likelihood of any woodland creature disturbing your corn by using chemical sprays, physical deterrents, and household ingredients.

Any obstacle or physical barrier between your corn and the hungry creature will increase the likelihood of maintaining your corn crop. Barriers include:

  • Traditional or electric fences
  • Netting
  • Thorny branches

Raccoons, deer, and squirrels are easily disturbed by human activity. We can’t be ten places at once, but they don’t know that. Ways to mimic human activity include:

  • Noisemakers. One gardener tied a foil baking tray to a nearby fence. When the wind blows, the foil tray bangs the fence and creates a disturbance to deter animals.
  • Whistles
  • Radios

You can also use household items to make cheap, non-toxic and chemical-free critter repellants. Make DIY repellants using items found in any ordinary kitchen.

  • Make hot pepper spray. Capsaicin, the chemical compound found in spicy foods, is a natural deterrent to most animals, including humans.
  • Buy mothballs and place them near plants. Neither squirrels nor deer are fans of this particular scent.
  • Add a bit of peppermint oil. Animals have a much stronger sense of smell than humans and are not fond of the intense aroma of peppermint oil.

Birds Are Eating Your Corn

Bird Eating Corn
Bird Eating Corn

An investigation by Cornell University found that birds cause significant damage to cornfields across the United States. Birds can prey on corn throughout the growing cycle, from seedling to towering stalk.

How To Keep Birds from Eating Your Corn

Follow a few simple steps to keep birds from getting at your corn plants. Multiple methods are better than one. Therefore, alternate and revise strategies to keep your corn protected until it makes it to the dinner table.

  • Buy a scarecrow. It’s old-fashioned, but it works. This Owl Scarecrow is effective at keeping birds away.
  • Utilize netting and other barriers. Cover the stalks.
  • Add noisemakers.

Further Reading: