Healthy root systems are essential for corn growth and yields.
As the foundation of the plant, roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil, anchor the plant in place, and provide support for the above-ground portion of the plant. When root development is compromised, the plant may struggle to access resources it needs to grow. This leads to reduced yields, lower quality crops, and more susceptibility to pests and diseases.
Two of the most common root development issues are rootless corn syndrome and tomahawk roots.
Rootless Corn Syndrome
What causes it:
Rootless corn syndrome, also known as “floppy corn syndrome,” occurs when the nodal roots fail to properly anchor the plant in the soil. This can cause the corn plant to lean to one side or become lodged. The main cause of rootless corn is a lack of soil moisture during the early stages of corn growth, typically during the V3 to V5 growth stages. This can lead to a shallow root system and poor nodal root development. Other contributing factors can include shallow planting, compacted soil beneath the seed, and excessive nitrogen fertilizer applications.
One of the main impacts of rootless corn syndrome is plant lodging. Plants with a shallow root system are more prone to tipping over, particularly during wind or heavy rain events. Lodged plants can be difficult to harvest due to ear drop or stalk breakage —leading to lower yields.
Rootless corn syndrome can cause plants to wilt or die, since they can’t access moisture and nutrients in the soil. Yield potential and plant development will likely suffer.
Tips for Prevention:
Prevention and management strategies for rootless corn syndrome include proper planting depth, soil moisture management, and timely nutrient applications. Ensuring the seed is planted at an appropriate depth can help promote proper nodal root development and anchorage. Additionally, maintain adequate soil moisture levels during the early growth stages to support root development and overall plant health. Finally, proper nutrient management ensures plants have the necessary resources for optimal growth and development.
What causes it:
Tomahawk roots are abnormal corn roots that are thick, short, and often conical in shape (resembling the head of a tomahawk). This root deformity affects primary and nodal root development. Tomahawk roots are a product of stress-related factors, including wet soil conditions at planting, temperature extremes, and sidewall compaction due to excessive down pressure at planting. Tomahawk roots can lead to less nutrient and water uptake, stunted growth, and low yield potential. Although this root abnormality is rare, it is important for growers to monitor their fields and consult with an AgriGold agronomist if they suspect any issues.
The impact of tomahawk roots on corn depends on several factors, including the density of the roots, soil conditions, and specific corn hybrid. In some cases, tomahawk roots can impede the corn plant’s growth and development, which reduces both the yield and overall crop quality. In hot/dry weather, plants can potentially wilt, since their root systems have been compromised, leading to stalk lodging and premature death. These abnormal roots can also make it more difficult to harvest, since they can get tangled up in harvesting equipment and cause damage.
Tips for Prevention:
Implementing the following practices will help reduce the risk and severity of tomahawk roots:
- Soil preparation: Proper soil preparation can help promote healthy root growth. Till the soil to a proper depth and incorporate organic matter and fertilizers as needed. Plant seeds, at minimum, 1.75” deep.
- Crop rotation: Rotating crops can help break up soil compaction. This reduces the incidence of certain pests and diseases that can contribute to tomahawk root development.
- Seed selection: Choose a corn hybrid that is well-suited for your specific soil and climate conditions. Some hybrids are more prone to developing tomahawk roots than others.
- Irrigation management (if applicable): Proper irrigation management promotes healthy root growth and reduces the risk of water stress.
- Nutrient management: Maintaining proper nutrient levels in the soil can help promote healthy root growth and reduce the risk of stress.
The bottom line
- Strong, healthy root systems are essential for high quality corn crops with maximum yield potential.
- Rootless corn syndrome and tomahawk roots are two common root development issues that can significantly impact plant growth, yield potential, and pest and disease susceptibility.
- Effective prevention and management strategies for these issues include proper planting depth, soil moisture management, timely nutrient applications, soil preparation, crop rotation, seed selection, irrigation management, and nutrient management.
If you suspect a root development issue in your fields, reach out to an AgriGold agronomist to help assess the cause and severity of corn root damage.