Corn Smut Control: How to Identify and Get Rid of Corn Smuts

Growing corn, either at home or in a commercial plantation, can be challenging because of the pests and diseases that can confront you. Among others, one of the most common is corn smut. This fungal disease can make the corn look disgusting, unfit for human consumption, and unmarketable. To make sure that your corn grows in the healthiest state possible, it is critical to be knowledgeable about how to get rid of corn smut.

What is Corn Smut?

Corn smut is a disease that is caused by Ustilago maydis fungus. Its first appearance was in Mexico in 1815, but it is now present all over the world. Although it is rare for this disease to completely lead to the death of the host plant, it causes significant cosmetic damage.

The fungus that carries corn smut will overwinter in the soil or plant debris. The spores can spread to other plants through wind and rain. Most of the infestation will happen during the growing season. Plants with openings or wounds will be more susceptible to damage. Insects can also contribute to the spread of the disease.

Infection from corn smut is more common during the warm and dry season, usually early during the summer months. The spores will also most likely grow if the soil has high nitrogen content or if it is abundant with manure. The nitrogen in soil encourages foliage that is succulent and attractive to diseases, which is why it is one of the causes of corn smut. Corn with wounds will also be likelier to suffer from infestation. These wounds can result from mechanical injury, insect bites, or strong wind, among others.

However, it is also important to point out that corn smut is not bad in all instances. In Central America, a lot are happy to find corn smut in their plants. They call it huitlacoche, an expensive ingredient in enchiladas, tortillas, and soups, among other dishes.  It has a mushroom-like, savory, sweet, and woody flavor.

Corn Smut

Corn Smut is Not Bad in All Instances

Identifying Corn Smut’s Damage

Host Plants

As the name implies, corn is the host of this disease.

Symptoms

Once the fungus enters the opening of its host, it will take roughly ten days before the symptoms will become evident. In a nutshell, the following are some of the changes that you will notice as a result of corn smut:

  • The most common symptom is the appearance of mushroom-like galls in the stalks, tassels, leaves, and ears of the corn. They start out as small, usually white or gray. As they stay longer in their host, they become larger and the color turns darker.
  • Most of the galls can grow as large as five inches in diameter. Those on the leaves, however, will not grow large.

Results of Infestation

Most of the time, the infestation will be restricted to cosmetic damages to the corn, making it unattractive. The appearance of galls in the corn can lead to economic losses as much as 20%. Still, this is quite small compared to other plant diseases. Plus, the infestation can be a good thing for some people since the fungus is a common ingredient in Central American dishes.

Smitten With Smut

The Infestation Will be Restricted to Cosmetic Damages to the Corn

How to Get Rid of Corn Smuts

Natural and Organic Solutions

The prevention and control of corn smut are pretty much easy. Below are some of the things that you can do to deal with this corn disease:

  • Planting a resistant variety is the best method to prevent corn smut. Some of the varieties of corn that can resist the corn smut fungus include Seneca sensation, fantasia, and silver king. Meanwhile, stay away from Country Gentlemen and Silver Queen as they are two of the varieties that are most susceptible to the disease.
  • Garden sanitation is one simple solution that will help. It is important to note that the spores can live in the soil for up to three years. Therefore, keeping the garden clean, such as through tilling and removal of plant debris, will help to make sure that the fungus will not be present around your plants.
  • Crop rotation will also help. Do not plant the same variety of corn for another year. This will prevent the overwintering fungus to get through the new plant.
  • Keep insects away from the garden or the corn plantation. The fungus carrying corn smut can enter the host through its wounds. In turn, these wounds are created by the insects that feed on the plant. Therefore, if there are no insects, the lesser is the likelihood that there will be entry points.
  • If there are infected plants, take it out as soon as possible, which will prevent the spores from spreading to the healthy corn. Do not throw it anywhere near the corn. Do not compost it. Burn or bag the corn so that the infection will no longer spread. Also, while the galls are still young, remove them the soonest. This will reduce the exposure of the corn to spores.
  • It is also important to be careful in the use of fertilizer. Over-fertilizing will make the soil and the plant more attractive to the fungus. A balanced fertilizer made from organic ingredients will be best. See to it that the nitrogen is not too much.
  • When cultivating or trimming the plant, it is also important to be as cautious as possible. this is to prevent injury to the plant and make it less susceptible to the entry of pathogen that will cause corn smut.

Chemical Solutions

There are no chemicals that will be effective in the treatment of corn smuts. Once the damages become apparent, it is too late to use chemical sprays. However, you can treat the seeds with chemicals like thiram or carboxin. Some of the specific brands that contain these active ingredients include Cadan, Sanvex, Nomersan, and Puralin, among others. They will prevent the fungus from affecting the plant when it grows. To enjoy the highest level of effectiveness, the use of such chemicals requires an integrated approach, which means that you have to combine it with other control strategies.

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