Corn Germination in Cold and Wet Weather

Categories: PLANTING, CORN
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Cold weather and snow can get in the way of planting across much of the Corn Belt. Although continuing to wait is difficult when planting is already delayed, being patient and letting the planters sit for a few more days is the best plan of action when cold temperatures and rain are in the forecast. When corn is planted into cold, wet soils, or a cold rain follows just after planting, it can cause germination and emergence issues, and sometimes result in the death of the developing seedling.

Imbibitional chilling on germinating seeds

Imbibitional chilling injury occurs 24 to 36 hours after planting, when the newly planted corn seed imbibes, or absorbs water to begin germination. When the seeds absorb water colder than 50 degrees, it can disrupt the cell tissues and damage the seed. Affected seeds can appear swollen, but show no other signs of germination. Such corn seeds can also have slow growth of the coleoptile and/or radicle, which can result in a loss of seedling vigor, and in severe cases, seed death.


Swollen corn seed that imbibed cold water and did not germinate.

Cold injury to emerging corn

Cold injury after germination occurs once the seed has taken in enough water to begin the germination process, but before it has emerged from the soil. This type of injury usually damages the outer cell layers and can cause the mesocotyl to “corkscrew” as the unaffected tissue continues to grow to the soil surface, while the damaged tissue ceases to develop. The cold also slows down the growth and the damaged tissue opens the plant up to infections from other diseases that can further injure the plant. Severe cases can also result in the death of the seedling.


“Corkscrew” mesocotyl from cold injury to a developing corn plant.

The effect of saturated soils on germinating corn

Germinating seeds and planted corn that has yet to emerge require oxygen to survive, and saturated and flooded soils deprive developing plants that much needed element. Depending on soil and weather conditions, depletion of oxygen in saturated or flooded soils takes around 48 hours. Cooler temperatures can help the developing corn to survive longer by reducing the rate of growth, but anything over 4 days can cause the corn seedling to perish.

Determining corn damage

Before determining plant survival and stand loss, wait to check your corn crop at least 3 to 5 days after conditions improve. For corn that has not emerged, dig up the seed and look for any soft or mushy seeds, discoloration and a rotten smell. Healthy seeds will be firm and have a white or light color when split open.

For emerged plants, dig up the roots and look for any damage or discoloration, and split the plants and look at the growing point. A healthy growing point will be whitish or cream in color and the tissue firm. Brown, soft water soaked tissue generally will result in the death of the plant. Any replant decisions should be made after careful scouting of affected fields, and determining if the replanting cost outweighs the potential yield loss from leaving existing stands.

Contact your Golden Harvest Seed Advisor with questions or for additional agronomic insights.

Photos are either the property of Syngenta or used under agreement.

Syngenta hereby disclaims liability for third-party websites.


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