What to Do With Dead Corn Stalks After Harvest (6 Uses!)
In 2019, more than 20 billion bushels of corn were harvested all over the world. Safe to say, corn is the world’s most important grain. Yet, after the harvest, what happens to the dead corn stalks? It might not seem significant, but there are many things that you can do with dead corn stalks!
Dead corn stalks can be used for 1) animal feed, 2) animal bedding, 3) compost, 4) mulch, 5) worm bins, and 6) decoration. Remove them by hand or with machines after harvest once the stalks turn dry and brown.
Whether you own a large corn field or grew some corn in a small garden, you’re probably uncertain what to do with the corn stalks. Here are some of the ways corn stalks can be useful in your home and garden!
1. Animal Feed
All dead corn stalks can be used to feed animals such as cattle, chickens, goats, horses, and rabbits. This must not be fed in large amounts as the fiber will be difficult to digest.
After harvesting large amounts of corn, their dead corn stalks can be gathered and baled for cattle food. This is a common technique used by farmers to help reduce waste and ensure their animals are well-fed during the winter.
Corn stalks can be a great source of additional feed. They aren’t very high in nutritional value, but they can provide some more protein.
These leftover corn stalks can supplement the main feed for cattle, horses, chickens, goats, and even pet rabbits!
Fiber can be difficult to digest in large quantities, however, so be sure only 20% of the animals’ diets consist of corn stalks.
Storage must be done carefully to prevent the dried corn stalk bale from growing moldy in wet winters. This mold can be harmful to the animals, so be sure to keep the stalks clean and dry!
2. Animal Bedding
After they are cleaned and dried, corn stalks can be used as sustainable animal bedding to keep barn animals warm during the winter. This can also be used for pets, like dogs.
If you happen to own any animals in barns or coops, you’ll probably know how cold they’ll be when winter comes.
Rather than sleep on the cold, uncomfortable ground, you can use dried corn stalks as a great natural alternative for warm bedding. This will give your animals some cushioning to lie on.
Even if you don’t own any cattle, you can reuse the corn stalks from your garden to create a bed for your pets. After letting them dry, the corn stalks can be cleaned to get rid of any dirt or bugs, and stuffed into an old pillowcase.
If they’re kept dry, the corn stalk stuffing can last for years!
Corn stalks can be turned into compost and buried in the soil to provide more nutrients and helpful microbes. To use corn stalks for compost, finely chop the stalks while they are green and mix them with compost or bury them in the soil to replenish it.
Corn plants require heavy amounts of nutrients to produce corn, and it can be difficult trying to replenish the soil after growing corn.
But by taking the remaining corn leaves and corn stalks and using them to create compost, you’ll be able to help replace some of these lost nutrients in the soil.
It might not replace everything, but it’s an easy way to give back to the soil without spending any extra money. This method has been used by farmers and Native Americans for years to replenish the soil and reduce waste.
This works best with green corn stalks, as they contain more nutrients than completely dried dead stalks.
You can keep them in a separate compost pile or bury the chopped corn stalks in your garden soil. As they decompose, their nutrients will be integrated with the soil over the winter.
The remaining corn stalks after harvest can be dried and turned into mulch. Ensure that the dead corn stalks are clean and free of pests or pathogens to keep the soil and plants healthy.
Once the corn stalks die and dry out, farmers frequently use this dried organic material as mulch. This is often why you see farmers leaving corn stalks all over the ground.
This organic mulch is an excellent way to smother weeds and help keep the soil insulated during the winter!
Such corn stalks must be free of pests or diseases. Otherwise, these contaminants will spread to your plants and soil.
Pro Tip: Whole corn stalks placed on the soil can actively repel water. Instead of using them whole, it’s best to shred the corn stalks to ensure they do not block any moisture.
If you struggle with pests and slugs, however, you might want to avoid using mulch until the pests are fully eradicated. These leftover corn stalks could serve as the perfect place for bugs to overwinter, so be careful!
5. Worm Bins
Corn stalks can be placed into worm bins to feed earthworms and create more worm castings. To help the worms consume it faster, tear the stalks into small pieces before putting them in the worm bin.
Though it might not be appealing to us, worms will happily devour all types of organic matter, including corn stalks.
Many gardeners love to use fresh or dried corn stalks and tear them into small pieces before mixing and tossing them in their worm bin. If you have any leftover corn kernels, these can also be mixed in.
To learn more about earthworms, check out the 12 Types of Earthworms.
It might take a while for the worms to eat, so the corn stalks will also serve as bedding for your worms until they’re entirely eaten.
After the corn stalks are consumed, the worms will eventually leave castings or worm poop, which can be mixed into your soil to make it more fertile.
Corn stalks are typically used for decoration in North America and can be crafted into wreaths or ornaments. High-quality corn stalk decors can also be sold.
After harvesting corn in late summer, leftover corn stalks can be gathered and used for all sorts of decoration. This is an especially popular ingredient for fall decorations and can be seen all over North America.
Once they’re cleaned, they make a perfect material to use for creative projects.
When you finish laying the corn stalks out to dry in the sun, they can finally be crafted into wreaths and dolls. You can even use them to dress up porches and balconies.
Because of this, people are frequently looking for corn stalks for crafting purposes. So you can also sell or give them away for other people to use.
When and How to Remove Corn Stalks From the Garden
Corn stalks can be mechanically removed or manually cut down. When using machines, allow the stalks to dry to prevent them from clogging the blades. Young corn stalks can also be manually cut or pulled out of the ground.
There are many ways to get rid of corn stalks. Some people do this by hand—using sickles, loppers, or shears to cut corn stalks in smaller home gardens.
I know of some folks who use lawnmowers too but this can be risky. Large rows of tough corn stalks can damage lawnmowers, so use this with caution.
But what if you have a larger field and plan to use machines to remove the corn stalks? In this case, it’s best to remove them after they have dried and turned brown.
You might think it’s easier to cut them while they’re young. But since fresh corn stalks have more moisture, they tend to get mushy in mowers and corn stalk shredders. Eventually, they will end up clogging the blades.
Whichever method you use, it’s ideal to cut the corn stalks at the base and put them aside. You can also leave them on the soil to decompose naturally like many farmers choose to do.
The roots can also be dug out, but it’s much more beneficial to leave them to decay to allow their rich microbes to stay in the soil.
Can You Leave Corn Stalks Up?
Instead of cutting them down, corn stalks can be left up during the winter to help catch excess snow. However, doing so can also attract insects like corn root aphids. As such, it’s best to leave corn stalks up in areas free from pests.
If you’d rather not deal with the trouble of clearing an entire field of corn stalks, you might be wondering if you can just leave them up.
The good news is that this is done by many farmers. Sometimes, they’ll choose to leave the corn stalks up and let it catch snow in the winter.
It might not sound like much at first, but this will prevent excess snow from collecting on the soil and melting, eroding the soil over time.
This will also keep the soil from becoming too cold in winter.
Keep in mind, however, that leaving large fields of corn stalks up could invite pests like corn root aphids and fall armyworms.
If these pests tend to invade your garden or local area often, it might be safer to completely cut the corn stalks than attract these destructive insects.
How long does it take for corn stalks to decompose?
Corn stalks left in a compost pile need at least 6–12 months to fully break down and decompose. Shredding the corn stalks as finely as possible will help them break down faster.
How long do dried corn stalks last?
If the corn stalks are kept clean and dry, they can last for years before they start to decay. But if the stalks are exposed to sun or moisture, they will rot within several months.
Summary of 6 Uses of Dead Corn Stalks
Corn stalks can be used for animal feed, animal bedding, compost, mulch, worm bins, and decorations when they are left after harvest.
Dead corn stalks can be removed by hand while they are still green. If the corn stalks are removed mechanically, however, it is best to wait until the stalks have dried to prevent them from damaging the machine blades.
Otherwise, the corn stalks can be left up to catch excess snow to help keep the soil warmer and prevent soil erosion.
- “Zea mays” by n/a in NC State University
- “Is corn a grain or a vegetable?” by n/a in the U.S. Department of Agriculture
- “Winter grazing and pasture erosion” by Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Mark Hanna, Stephen K. Barnhart, Jim Russell, and Michael Tidman in Iowa State University
- “Insect Pests of Sweet Corn” by Randall P. Griffin and Joey Williamson in Clemson University