Growing your own corn makes a dramatic statement in the garden. Reaching 10 to 12 feet in height, modern corn plants grow in tandem with other giants, such as sunflowers and hollyhocks. Unless they become infected with corn stunt.
Corn stunt does not mean ears of corn will suddenly start doing gymnastics over the fence into your neighbor’s yard. Instead, this bacterial disease will infect the phloem of corn plants, reducing them in size and all but eliminating kernel production.
Corn stunt disease complex
Some people see corn stunt as a single disease, while others see it as one part of a complex of three disease, the other two being maize bushy stunt mycoplasma and maize rayado fino virus (MRFV). Yet others include maize chlorotic dwarf virus in the corn stunt complex. Any combination of these diseases can be devastating to your corn crop.
Corn stunt symptoms
Healthy corn plants produce one or two ears of corn, depending on whether they are early or late maturing varieties, respectively. Plants infected with corn stunt are significantly shorter than normal, often only 5 feet tall, and may produce 6 or 7 ears. That may sound great, but it’s not. These ears are small and they do not fill properly, meaning there ends up being a lot of empty spaces. The kernels that do develop are not well attached, in a condition known as “loose tooth ears”. Infected plants will also exhibit pale yellow new leaves at the top. As these leaves mature, they tend to turn reddish.
How corn stunt spreads
Corn stunt is caused by Spiroplasma kunkeliiI, which is carried by leafhoppers. Corn leafhoppers (Dalbulus maidis), in particular, carry this disease with them, spreading it as they feed.
Corn stunt management
You can prevent corn stunt by using reflective mulches that deter leafhoppers. Planting your corn as early as possible in the growing season has been shown to reduce the impact of corn stunt infections. Apparently, the first generation of emerging bacterium are not as effective at spreading the disease as those that occur later in the season. Insecticides are generally not effective.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!