Hand pollinating sweet corn

Anyone who could give some advice about hand pollinating sweet corn?

I am planting Se sweet corn this year. Here is my problem. The field behind my house is going to be planted with field corn (no surprise this is Illinois after all) and my garden is about 80 feet from the field.

For many vegetables cross pollination with undesirable varieties is unimportant unless your collecting seed- the exception is corn. If sweet corn is pollinated with field corn you get tough kernels.

So I am going to hand pollinate and maybe use some form of protected pollination. Does anyone have experience with hand pollinating sweet corn or was in a similar situation with a sweet corn planting near a regular corn field?

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I’ve done quite a bit of hand pollination with corn. There is relatively little crossing at 80 feet distance unless you have strong prevailing winds during tasseling. Presuming the wind usually blows west to east in your area, plant rows of corn from west to east so the pollen from your corn will predominantly fall on nearby stalks. Plant in blocks with for example 5 short rows better than one long row. The amount of crossing will be low enough that flavor will not be impaired.

If you still want to do hand pollination, glassine bags can be purchased to cover each developing ear of corn and white paper bags can be used to staple around the tassels. When ready to cross, cut off a few of the bagged tassels and shake the pollen into the bottom of one bag. Walk down the row removing the glassine bag from each ear and apply a generous dusting of pollen. This will have to be done at least once a day for a week to get good pollination and presuming you are growing hybrid corn that matures all at the same time. If growing open pollinated corn with variable maturity, you will have to hand manage to get each ear pollinated and it may have to be done daily for a month.


Thanks for the info. When do you start planting your sweet corn. Do you just use a recommended date for planting? Or do you usually use the soil temperature (range of 60-70F minimum is often given)?

I know the dates when it usually does well in this area. I can plant between the 20th of April and 1st of June most years. I have planted as early as the 1st of April, but it often gets frosted or does not germinate very well due to cool soil. One trick I learned years ago is to start my corn in seed start trays and transplant into the garden when it is about an inch tall. This tends to avoid birds eating the kernels and other such problems. I also get exactly the number of stalks exactly where I want them in the row.


Good to know. Kudos to you for successfully transplanting corn. It has a reputation of being hard to transplant.

Corn produces a primary root that is the first thing to emerge from the seed. ANYTHING you do that breaks or stunts or shortens this primary root will result in a less productive plant. Note that I specified 1 inch tall seedlings. At this size, the primary root will be in the cell tray and can be readily transplanted. My son is really good at handling corn seedlings. I’ve seen him produce huge ears on plants that were transplanted when 4 inches tall with 6 inch long primary roots. If you guessed he transplants the entire root without breaking it, you got it right.

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