Agronomy Blog

Purple Leaves in Corn

by Steve Crafton | May 4, 2017

A fair amount of corn has been planted across the Corn Belt the past few weeks.  Spring rains have been ample across the Corn Belt and temperatures are expected to drop into the lower 40’s again this week. It would not surprise me to hear reports of farmers seeing reddish-purple leaves in their young corn plants. Cool conditions, soil compaction, genetics and low phosphorus are a few factors that can cause the reddish-purpling symptom of the young corn plant leaves.

Steve-Purple Leaves citedThe reddish-purple color expressed in the leaves occurs when there is more sugar in the plant that it can utilize.  Low phosphorus levels can also restrict sugar movement out of the leaves and sugar movement to the roots.  More than likely the issue is not low phosphorus but cool compacted soils slowing plant growth.  Most of the time when I have seen these symptoms it has been on the end rows of fields after cool nights, where compaction is more prevalent.

Some genetic backgrounds are more prone to the purpling of the plant when the environment is right. This is more of a cosmetic issue. In most instances the purpling of the leaves early on has shown little to no yield loss in the fall.

Cool, cloudy conditions have set in across the Corn Belt putting an added stress to the young corn plants trying to set roots.  Some producers have pushed the planting window a bit with heavy rains forecasted and planted their crop when the soil could have used a couple more sunny days to dry.  Compacted soils with cooler temperatures are slowing plant growth and the uptake of nutrients.  If you see some purpling of the corn leaves don’t worry too much. After a few days of warmer weather, the plants will green up and take off.


References and additional information

  1. Purple and Yellow Corn Plants June 13, 2013 by Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois
  2. Integrated Crop Management May 8, 2006 “Why are corn seedlings turning purple?” by Roger Elmore and Lori Abendroth, Iowa State University, Department of Agronomy

 To download a copy of this Technical Bulletin: Tech_331 - Purple leaves in corn

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