Sampling for Nematodes that Feed on Corn This Season

June 5, 2011
ICM News

By Greg Tylka, Department of Plant Pathology

Interest in plant-parasitic nematodes as pathogens of corn is greater now than in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, little research on the biology, scouting and management of nematode parasites of corn has been done since the 1980s, and there are no clear answers to many basic questions, such as when samples should be collected to scout for nematodes on corn.

Population densities (numbers) of most species of plant-parasitic nematodes that feed on corn increase through the growing season, then decline as the corn crop matures and eventually dies. And most species do not damage corn at low population densities. 

Researchers in the 1980s established damage thresholds for the different nematodes that feed on corn, and the damage thresholds were based on "mid season" population densities. It is not clear what specific calendar dates or corn growth stages were meant as "mid season" by the researchers.  

Research on nematodes that feed on corn is currently underway in many Midwest states, including Iowa. And recent work with the endoparasitic root-lesion and lance nematodes on corn indicate that the V6 growth stage is a good time to start to collect soil and root samples to assess population densities of nematodes.  

It is unlikely that a healthy looking corn crop would be growing in soil infested with damaging population densities of plant-parasitic nematodes.  So sampling fields indiscriminately is not advised.  But it might be worthwhile to collect samples to test for plant-parasitic nematodes in fields of unthrifty corn, and sampling near the V6 growth stage seems to be a good time.

Corn at V6 stage of development. Photo credit Erick Larson, Mississippi State University.

At this stage in the corn crop development, sampling should done be as follows:

  • Collect 10 to 20 12-inch-deep soil cores from the root zone of unthrifty plants.
  • Collect 5 to 10 root masses from V6 plants; the tops of the plants can be cut off and discarded, and soil adhering to roots can be removed as well.
  • Place soil cores in a sealed plastic bag; roots can be placed in a separate plastic bag.
  • Protect the samples from temperatures above 80 degrees, and do not be physically rough with the samples (by throwing them, for example).
  • Deliver or send the samples to a laboratory for processing as quickly as possible; avoid shipping samples on Thursdays and Fridays so that samples do not sit in delivery trucks over the weekend.

Several private laboratories and most land-grant university plant diagnostic laboratories process samples and determine the identities and numbers of plant-parasitic nematodes present.  At Iowa State University, the facility is: 

Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic

Room 327 Bessey Hall

Iowa State University

Ames, IA 50011

The test for nematodes that feed on corn from the ISU Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic is called the complete nematode count.  Samples sent to the ISU Clinic should be accompanied by a completed Plant Nematode Sample Submission Form (referred to on the ISU Extension Online Store as PD 0032) and a check for the $30 per sample processing fee.

If damaging population densities of nematodes are found, there are no in-season tactics that can be implemented to mitigate the yield loss that will occur in the current growing season.  Primary management strategies for future years are use of soil-applied Counter® 15G and 20G nematicides and/or seed treatments such as Avicta® and Votivo™. The information obtained from samples collected this year may pay dividends in the form of more profitable corn production in future years.

Young corn root system (plant not yet V6) dug for nematode testing.


Greg Tylka is a professor of plant pathology with extension and research responsibilities in management of plant-parasitic nematodes.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Integrated Crop Management News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on June 5, 2011. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.


Greg Tylka Morrill Professor

Dr. Greg Tylka is a Morrill Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University with extension and research responsibilities for management of plant-parasitic nematodes. The focus of Dr. Tylka's research program at Iowa State University is primarily the soybea...