Sweet corn (Zea mays L.) growers in the upper midwestern U.S. have used clear plastic mulch to improve early yield and advance crop maturity. Results of this practice have been inconsistent because of early season temperature variability and inadequate information on cultivar adaptation. Our objective was to improve the performance consistency by investigating earliness techniques with the early, sugary-enhancer (se) cultivar Temptation planted at two sites. Treatments were bare soil or clear plastic mulch, rowcovers or none, and direct-seeded or transplanted plants. Transplants were produced in the greenhouse in either 50-cell plastic trays or peat pot strips, 2.3 inches × 4.0 inches deep (6 × 10 cm) and were evaluated according to transplant age and cell size. In the cold springs of 1996 and 1997, the use of clear plastic mulch shortened maturity of sweet corn by 1 and 10 days, respectively, for the silt loam site; but no maturity advantage was observed for the loamy sand site. Clear plastic raised the minimum soil temperature by 3.8 to 4.0 °F (2.1 to 2.2 °C) at both sites. The 2-week-old 50-cell tray transplants matured 6 days earlier than the peat pot strip transplants or direct seeded at both locations in 1997. Marketable yield from the transplants was inconsistent by location and year. Four-week-old transplants did not withstand field stress and performed poorly regardless of type of container. Ear quality as indicated by row number, ear diameter, ear length, and tipfill was lowest with transplants.
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