Corn Stalk Lodging

Corn Stalk Lodging - Solution Guide

When corn stalks break or bend over halfway down or at a spot lower to the ground, this is called Lodging. Lodging corn stalks can happen usually during summer or commonly during storms or other adverse weather scenarios. Strong, violent winds, beating rains, or hail can lead to stalks breaking or bending over. However, this is only a symptom and NOT typically the cause.

When stalks lodge, it is because they are already weakened or have become rotten near the base. There are many reasons why stalks become weakened and susceptible to lodging. Issues with lodging can be very seasonal and random in a field due to the different potential causes.

Listed below are common causes and general guidelines for preventing issues with lodging.

Common Causes and Prevention Guidelines

High plant populations - Rows too close together or high-density in-row plant spacing can cause lodging. Stalks compete for light, nutrients, and water, reducing their physical stalk strength.>

  • Prevention: Follow proper guidelines for plant spacing. Plant seeds further apart in a row and reduce the number of plants in the entire planting area or field.

Excess soil moisture - Overly wet soil slows root growth and hampers root development.

  • Prevention: Earlier planted varieties better utilize early summer solar radiation and rainfall and tend to grow stronger, but many modern varieties have been bred for stronger stalks.,/li>

Drought stress - Overly dry conditions can create stress and weak stalks by preventing carbohydrate development, leading to lodging potential.

  • Prevention: Supplemental irrigation, where possible, can help maintain soil moisture to prevent drought and heat stress. In-home gardens, applying 2-4 inches of clean straw mulch (or something similar) can help with moisture retention.

Nutrient deficiencies or imbalances--High nitrogen levels create lush, broader foliage, making stalks more top-heavy. Low potassium levels can increase the potential for premature stalk decay. Low nitrogen levels can result in weak and less vigorous stalks, leading to insects or rot, causing bacteria growth.

  • Prevention: Get a soil test done to assess nutrient levels. "Don't guess; do a test." Soil testing should be done every 3-5 years, especially if lodging symptoms persist for two years in a row. Fertilize with proper amounts of balanced fertilizer products.

Insect damage--Corn rootworm and European corn borer feeding on stalks near the ground cause damage and decay that causes rot, introducing bacteria or pathogens that damage and weaken stalks.

  • Prevention: Where possible, late plantings can help avoid corn borer larvae issues. Crop rotations help, too, by preventing pest populations from building up. Planting beans or another legume to follow corn plantings to fix nitrogen is beneficial.

Harvesting promptly can limit losses to stalk rot caused by lodging later in the season. Crops that experience late-season stress or extensive disease issues are most susceptible. If problems persist even with prevention methods being followed, contact your county agricultural extension office for help, suggestions, and additional guidance.