Germination and Early Growth in Cold/Wet Conditions


Germination and Early Growth in Cold/Wet Conditions

Springtime on the farm can be an anxious time, as farmers wait patiently (or not-so-patiently) for planting season to begin. Planting season seems to be starting earlier and earlier. Farmers know they can achieve higher yields by maximizing the time plants have to gather sunlight and turn energy into sugars, which encourages them to pull the planting window forward as much as possible. Advancements in genetics and seed treatments have made farmers more confident in deciding to plant sooner.

Still, this is a calculated risk because planting into cold or wet soils can cause serious stresses on germination and may even kill the seedlings. To reduce this risk, farmers must be aware of the factors that affect the germination process.

Successful Germination

Several factors must be met to begin the germination process. These include good seed-to-soil contact, soil temperatures of 50 degrees or higher and trending warmer, and seeds absorbing enough water to reach 30-percent moisture content. Of these, farmers have the most control over seed-to-soil contact, where tillage practices and planter prep can make a significant difference. Soil temperatures – and, to a lesser extent, moisture – are more in Mother Nature’s hands, but there are steps farmers can take to help ensure that seedlings emerge strong, making every ear count.

Cold Soil Impacts Germination

A corn plant takes its first sip of water through the pericarp, the hard outer layer that protects the kernel, less than 36 hours after it’s planted. If the soil temperature is lower than 50 degrees when this happens, the seedling can be harmed. So, while the soil temperature at planting is important, the temperatures over the first 3 to 4 days after planting are equally critical. Should the soil temperature drop after planting, seedlings may start growing toward the surface but turn south, “corkscrewing” toward warmer temperatures away from the soil surface or shutting down altogether.

Soil Moisture Plays a Role as Well

Water uptake during the first 24 to 48 hours is also vital to the health of the seedling. If soil temperatures are too low, and the newly planted corn seed absorbs cold water, it can disrupt tissue growth. These seeds will appear swollen and are less elastic than they should be, often cracking or rupturing. Should they survive, these chilled seedlings may be more susceptible to disease.

The amount of water above the surface is important too, and in this case, too much is too much. Seedlings require oxygen to survive, and flooded fields deprive them of this important element, with potentially lethal results. Pounding rain or flooding can also cause the soil to crust and become too hard for the seedlings to penetrate. Cool and wet conditions are ideal for seedling fungal diseases that can hammer seeds without a fungicide seed treatment.

Getting Plants Up and Growing in Cool, Wet Conditions is Important for Successful Planting

Farmers should wait until soil temperatures are higher than 50 degrees and trending upward, and scout their fields four to seven days after planting to check for germination and seedling development. Using a starter fertilizer with phosphorus can give an added boost to the germination process.


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