In arid and semiarid regions of northern China, there is an increasing interest in using water-saving superabsorbent polymer (SAP) for field crop production. Experiments were conducted during summer corn season in 2009 to study the growth and yield characteristics of summer corn (Zea mays L.) under different (control, 0; low, 5; medium, 10 and high, 15 kg ha-1) rates of SAP in a drought-affected field of northern China. Corn yield increased slightly following SAP application at low and medium rate, but significantly at high rate by 37.5%. At the same time, plant height, stem diameter, leaf area, biomass accumulation, harvest index and relative water content, as well as protein, sugar and starch contents in the grain increased significantly following SAP treatments. The optimum application of superabsorbent polymer for corn cultivation in the study area would be 15 kg ha-1 as it best increased the grain yield and quality. Lower rates (5 and 10 kg ha-1) may not be sufficient for corn requirements. We suggest that the application of SAP at 15 kg ha-1could be an efficient and economic soil management practice for summer corn production in the drought affected regions of northern China or other areas with similar ecologies.
Key words: Corn, drought stress, northern China, superabsorbent polymer.
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