Tips for Protecting Corn From Disease, Pests and Animals
Three things constantly threaten gardens: disease, insects and animals. Be sure to examine your plants for signs of damage and make sure you vary the times you check for infestation. Another pest you need to watch for is the corn earworm. Corn earworms are a problem in sweet corn every year. Moths deposit eggs on the developing silks or on leaves near the ear which become tiny caterpillars. The worms feed on the tip of the ear. Once the worm is inside the protective husk covering, there is no effective control. But there are things you can do to protect you corn plants.
Say No to Earworms
To protect the corn from earworms, you need to keep them from entering the tip of the husk. You can do this by wrapping a rubber band around the tip of the ear or you can attach a clothespin to the tip after the silk appears. Anything that restricts the worm from entering the tip of the husk will help decrease the damage. Another deterrent is to insert half a medicine dropper full of mineral oil to the dried corn silks. This will keep the worms from gripping the plants.
You can spray corn plants with Bacilulus thuringiensis called BT. This insecticide contains bacteria that affect only the larvae of the corn borer. Your local garden center can provide you with all the information on approved insecticides.
Keep the Birds Away
As the corn continues to grow, birds will pose the greatest threat to the crop. The best way to scare off birds is with a scarecrow. To frighten the birds, set up a scarecrow dressed in light flowing clothes that can move in the wind. You can also attach strips of aluminum foil to the scarecrow to increase the reflection of sunlight and movement in the garden. You can even use colored balloons or beach ball painted with large eyes to frighten the birds. Just be sure to change the scarecrow's location every few days so the birds don't get used to it being in one place.
Another way to keep birds from raking the corn crop, is to build a bird screen to cover your beds. Using a sledge hammer, drive stakes into the ground 8" deep. Next, stretch string from corner to corner and around the perimeter, tying the string to the stakes. You then attach sod staples to hold down one end of some protective netting. The netting will provide extra support for the cornstalks. Stretch the netting over the plot and secure it on the opposite side of the plot with the sod staples. Be sure to pull the netting tight and attach enough staples around the whole area to secure the netting over the plot.
To control any weeds that pop up in the patch, you should hoe between the rows. Just be careful not to hoe deeply or you may damage the stalks or the roots. You can also spread mulch around the base to control the weeds and to help conserve moisture.
Harvesting Healthy Corn
If you find smut, a swollen black pustule in the ear, break off the infected part of the ear. The remainder of the cob is suitable for eating. Be sure to place the galls in the garbage or burn them to keep the galls from spreading. Do not discard near the garden. Though it's not poisonous, it can be unpleasant to handle.