What to do about corn suckers?

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My father grew corn in his garden, but I never paid much attention to how he tended to it. I just ate it when it was ripe.

I decided to experiment this year with a modified “Three Sisters” approach adopted by the Native Americans. Instead of planting corn, beans, and squash together, the “Three Sisters,” I chose to plant beans with the corn in one garden location and then corn without beans in another spot. The corn growing among the beans is doing fine, ready to tassel or beginning to tassel and no suckers. Yeah!

Then I look at the corn growing by itself. It was ready to tassel, but suckers abound.

I know to trim off suckers on trees, but what do I do about corn suckers at the base of the main corn stalk? So I researched agricultural extension sites, including the WSU Extension library: I don’t need to worry about suckers.

Suckers tend to appear at the stalk base as offshoots when there is excessive fertilizer or there has been damage to the main stalk early in its growth (usually from a late frost). Suckers are neither good nor bad for corn; they just are.

Farmers used to think that suckers were bad, but that is no longer the thought. You don’t have to remove suckers. Removing shoots 12 inches or more in length can weaken the plant and stunt growth because the shoots provide nutrients to the main stalk when needed.

Removing suckers can cause disease to set in. Learning that weakened stalks and disease can reduce corn yield, I decided not to cut the suckers out. I want all the corn I can get. If the suckers do not produce corn, I am fine with that. However, if they do, it will be a bonus. More corn ears from a single seed. Better than bank interest.

The moral: Don’t fret over corn suckers. You may pluck more ears of corn by leaving the suckers where they are.

For answers to gardening questions, contact the Master Gardeners at the WSU Grant-Adams Extension office at 754-2011, ext. 4313 or email your gardening questions to ga.mgvolunteers@wsu.edu. Visit our web page at grant-adams.wsu.edu.

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