It seemed like we’d never get those seeds into the ground but it’s finally done and now we’re wondering how everyone else’s garden is doing. We planted corn this year and did a ton of research on what can grow wrong with the crop. Seedcorn maggot has got to be the worst that can happen, in our opinion. If you’re growing corn this year as well, read on to learn about this nasty little pest.
What’s a seedcorn maggot?
Maggots are the legless, wormlike offspring of certain gnats, mosquitos and flies. The seedcorn maggot is the offspring of a small brown fly that you may see hovering over a freshly-manured garden plot. The maggot, however, lives in the soil and dines on freshly planted corn seeds.
The seedcorn maggot is in the soil long before the growing season begins and, in fact, overwinters there, tucked inside its puparium (a hard outer shell). In spring, it will emerge from the soil as a small brown fly. It will mate and lay eggs on top of the soil. It only takes a few days for the eggs to hatch and the seedcorn maggots will dig into the soil and then into the corn seed. They will continue feeding on the seed for from two to three weeks and then enter into the pupal stage.
The scariest part about this pets is that you may not even know they’re in the soil until you begin to get curious about why the seeds aren’t germinating. Or, if they do sprout, they may be weak and die shortly after germination. There is no way to save the crop once the seedcorn maggot takes hold.
Corn seeds that fall victim to seedcorn maggot may never germinate and, if they do, they produce weak seedlings that typically don’t last long. Damage can be widespread, throughout an entire planting. The only remedy when your corn planting is infested is to till the soil and start over.
Preventing a seedcorn maggot infestation
Seedcorn maggots prefer rich, moist soil. Compost, manure and other organic matter attracts the flies that give birth to the maggots. The flies are also attracted to cool soil. The best way to avoid an infestation is to not plant too early in the season and to be mindful of not applying too much fertilizer at planting.
You can view photos of the pest on Washington State University’s website.