Corn Plant Tillers: Tips On Removing Suckers From Corn

Close Up Of Corn Stalk Plant
corn sucker
(Image credit: rvimages)

Corn is as American as apple pie. Many of us grow corn, or at the very least, we consume quite a few ears each summer. This year we're growing our corn in containers, and of late I've noticed some sort of sucker on the corn stalks. After doing a little research, I found that these are referred to as corn plant tillers. What are corn tillers and should you be removing the suckers from corn?

What are Corn Tillers?

Corn tillers are also sometimes called suckers because of the old wives tale that they “suck” nutrients from the plant. The question is, “Is it true that suckers on corn stalks will adversely affect yield?” Tillers on corn are vegetative or reproductive shoots that grow from the axillary buds on the lower five to seven stalk nodes of a corn plant. They are commonly found on corn. They are identical to the main stalk and can even form their own root system, nodes, leaves, ears, and tassels. If you find similar buds at nodes that are higher up on the main stalk, they are undoubtedly not corn plant tillers. They are called ear shoots and differ from tillers with shorter ears and leaves, and the stalk ends in an ear rather than a tassel. Tillers on corn are generally a sign that the corn is growing in favorable conditions. However, tillers sometimes develop after an injury to the main stalk early in the growing season. Hail, frost, insects, wind, or damage caused by tractors, humans, or deer may all result in the formation of tillers. Usually, the tillers don't have enough time to develop into mature ears before the weather turns and frost kills them. Sometimes, however, they will make it to maturity and an extra little bounty of corn may be harvested. With favorable conditions -- ample light, water, and nutrients, tillers form because the corn has surplus energy to foster tiller development. Tillers are usually formed later in the growing season and don’t usually become ears of corn, key word -- usually. Generally, because they are so late, they are “forced” out by the competitive maturing ears. Sometimes though, if conditions are just right, you may end up with a bonus ear of corn.

Are Suckers on Corn Stalks Detrimental?

Tillers appear to have no adverse effect on corn; in fact, as mentioned above, you might possibly get an additional ear or two. Since tillers are also referred to as suckers and most of us remove suckers from plants, the idea is to remove them. Should you be removing suckers from corn plants? There doesn't seem to be any reason to remove them. They aren't harming the plant and natural selection may do the work for you. Also, if you try to prune them, you risk causing damage to the main stalk, which can open it to insects or disease. Better to be safe than sorry and just leave the corn tillers alone.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.