Increased reflection of far-red light among plants can lower the red:far-red ratio (R:FR) of horizontally-propagated light before substantial shading among plants occurs. Although previous research suggests that altered R:FR can affect corn growth, it is not understood how early-season low R:FR (associated with higher plant densities in corn–weed communities than in weed-free corn) affects corn productivity in the field. We conducted field experiments from 2005 to 2007 to determine the effects of reduced R:FR on corn growth and yield. Corn was established at 53,800 plants ha−1 for a control R:FR treatment (weed-free corn) and at 107,600 plants ha−1 for a low R:FR treatment (simulated corn–weed community). The low R:FR treatment was thinned to the control plant density at V7 corn (seven fully-expanded leaf collars), which simulated total weed removal. Before thinning, R:FR (645:735 nm) at V7 corn in the low R:FR treatment (0.23) was less than 50% of that in the control R:FR treatment (0.49) across years. In 2005, stalk diameter, stem length, stem mass, leaf mass, specific leaf area, and total plant mass were less for V5 corn in the low R:FR treatment than in the control R:FR treatment. In 2006, V5 corn was taller in the low R:FR treatment than in the control R:FR treatment, but other morphological characteristics were similar between treatments. The shoot:root ratio of V5 (five fully-expanded leaf collars) (2005) and V7 corn (2006) was not affected by R:FR treatment, nor was shoot mass and grain yield of R6 corn (physiological maturity). Measurements in 2006 indicated that soil moisture and nutrient availability were not limiting and did not differ between treatments. Early-season R:FR in simulated corn–weed communities was similar to that in in situ corn–weed communities. These results suggest that low R:FR typical of early-season corn–weed communities was not associated with corn grain yield loss under field conditions in which water and nutrients were not limiting resources.
Nomenclature: Corn, Zea mays L