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Integrated Pest & Crop Management


Gregory A. Luce
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology

Optimum Corn Planting Depth - "Don't Plant Your Corn Too Shallow"

Gregory A. Luce
University of Missouri

Published: April 6, 2016

There are a lot of factors that influence corn stand and final yield. Some we cannot control and some we can. One easy way to give your corn crop the best opportunity for consistent stand level, and ultimately yield potential, is to plant at the proper depth.

The old rule of thumb (index finger in this case) is to plant corn seed at a depth equal to the second knuckle on their index finger. Well, not everybody has the same length fingers so a bit more accurate measurement is in order for this important management decision.

University Extension publications across the Midwest typically recommend a corn seeding depth of 1.5 to 2.5 inches. Most agronomists will agree that planting corn too shallow leads to more frequent problems than planting too deep. From my experiences, bad things happen when corn seed is planted shallower than 1.5 inches. Therefore, I recommend targeting 2 inches as an excellent depth for corn planting.

A primary reason to target a 2 inch depth is to achieve good seed-to-soil contact. In order to accomplish this throughout the seedbed, the seed needs to be where the moisture levels are most consistent. Uneven soil moisture throughout the seed zone is the primary cause of uneven emergence, the results of which can easily be yield losses of 8 to 10 percent. http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/Pubs/UWEX/NCR344.pdf

Rootless corn can result if planting corn too shallow.

The second reason for the recommended planting depth is to establish a strong nodal root system.The nodal root system not only helps support the corn plant structurally, but is also responsible for uptake of the vast majority of the water and nutrients the plant needs. A good nodal root system is essential in reducing early season root lodging as well as helping the plant perform better under drought stress later in the season. A shallower planting depth, especially less than 1.5 inches, can lead to early-season root lodging due to shallow nodal root development or corn injury from pre-emergence herbicides.

Heavy texture soils may require careful planting depth adjustment but it is still important too not plant too shallow.

There are always exceptions to the rules that can rely on some fine tuning. For instance, if soil conditions are dry at planting time, planting to moisture is often practiced to help uniformity of emergence. Soil texture is another factor to consider. In very heavy textured, high clay content soils, corn seeds should not be planted deeper than 2.5 inches. However, in lighter sandy soils planting 3.0 inches deep may be necessary. In fact, planting 2.5 to 3.0 inches is recommended in states to the west of Missouri.

The conditions of every one of your fields may vary dramatically enough to warrant a slightly different seeding depth for each one. Growers should check corn seeding depths when they enter fields with different soil types or tillage practices. It is a recommended practice to spend some time evaluating each field at the time of planting.

Check planting depth when starting each field.

In summary, corn should never be planted less than 1.5 inches deep, 1.75 to 2.25 inches is an ideal target, but depending on soil type and conditions, may be planted up to 3 inches deep without any effect on stand establishment.

Have a safe and successful planting season.

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REVISED: April 6, 2016