Skip to main content Accessibility help

Response of canopy structure, light interception and grain yield to plant density in maize

  • J. Li (a1), R. Z. Xie (a2), K. R. Wang (a2), P. Hou (a2), B. Ming (a2), G. Q. Zhang (a2), G. Z. Liu (a2), M. Wu (a1), Z. S. Yang (a1) and S. K. Li (a2)...


Good canopy structure is essential for optimal maize (Zea mays L.) production. However, creating appropriate maize canopy structure can be difficult, because the characteristics of individual plants are altered by changes in plant age, density and interactions with neighbouring plants. The objective of the current study was to find a reliable method for building good maize canopy structure by analysing changes in canopy structure, light distribution and grain yield (GY). A modern maize cultivar (ZhengDan958) was planted at 12 densities ranging from 1.5 to 18 plants/m2 at two field locations in Xinjiang, China. At the silking stage (R1), plant and ear height increased with plant density as well as leaf area index (LAI), whereas leaf area per plant decreased logarithmically. The fraction of light intercepted by the plant (F) increased with increasing plant density, but the light extinction coefficient (K) decreased linearly from 0.61 to 0.39. Taking the optimum value of F (95%) as an example, and using measured values of K for each plant density at R1 and the equation from Beer's law, the corresponding (theoretical) LAI for each plant density was calculated and optimum plant density (9.72 plants/m2) obtained by calculating the difference between theoretical LAIs and actual observations. Further analysis showed that plant density ranging from 10.64 to 11.55 plants/m2 yielded a stable GY range. Therefore, taking into account the persistence time for maximum LAI, the plant density required to obtain an ideal GY maize canopy structure should be increased by 10–18% from 9.72 plants/m2.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: R. Z. Xie, E-mail: and S. K. Li, E-mail:


Hide All
Andrade, FH, Uhart, SA, Arguissain, GG and Ruiz, RA (1992) Radiation use efficiency of maize growing in a cool area. Field Crops Research 28, 345354.
Andrade, FH, Calvïno, P, Cirilo, A and Barbieri, P (2002) Yield responses to narrow rows depend on increased radiation interception. Agronomy Journal 94, 975980.
Barbieri, PA, Sainz Rozas, HR, Andrade, FH and Echeverria, HE (2000) Row spacing effects at different levels of nitrogen availability in maize. Agronomy Journal 92, 283288.
Bolaños, J and Edmeades, GO (1993) Eight cycles of selection for drought tolerance in lowland tropical maize. I. Responses in grain yield, biomass, and radiation utilization. Field Crops Research 31, 233252.
Borrás, L, Maddonni, GA and Otegui, ME (2003) Leaf senescence in maize hybrids: plant population, row spacing and kernel set effects. Field Crops Research 82, 1326.
Chen, GP, Gao, JL, Zhao, M, Dong, ST, Li, SK, Li, SK, Yang, QF, Liu, YH, Wang, LC, Xue, JQ, Liu, JG, Li, CH, Wang, YH, Wang, YD, Song, HX and Zhao, JR (2012) Distribution, yield structure, and key cultural techniques of maize super-high yield plots in recent years. Scientia Agricultura Sinica 38, 8085.
Cox, WJ (1996) Whole plant physiological and yield responses of maize to plant population. Agronomy Journal 88, 489496.
Edwards, JT, Purcell, LC and Vories, ED (2005) Light interception and yield potential of short-season maize hybrids in the midsouth. Agronomy Journal 97, 225234.
Flenet, F, Kiniry, JR, Board, JE, Westgate, ME and Reicosky, DC (1996) Row spacing effects on light extinction coefficients of corn, sorghum, soybean, and sunflower. Agronomy Journal 88, 185190.
Girardin, PH and Tollenaar, M (1994) Effects of intraspecific interference on maize leaf azimuth. Crop Science 34, 151155.
Hikosaka, K and Hirose, T (1997) Leaf angle as a strategy for light competition: optimal and evolutionarily stable light-extinction coefficient within a leaf canopy. Ecoscience 4, 501507.
Jones, CA, Kiniry, JR and Dyke, PT (1986) CERES-Maize: A Simulation Model of Maize Growth and Development. College Station, TX, USA: Texas A & M University Press.
Li, SK and Wang, CT (2010) Potential and Ways to High Yield in Maize. Beijing, China: Science Press.
Li, J, Xie, RZ, Wang, KR, Hou, P, Ming, B, Guo, YQ, Sun, YL, Zhang, GQ, Zhao, RL and Li, SK (2015 a) Changes in plant-to-plant variability among maize individuals and their relationships with plant density and grain yield. Philippine Agricultural Scientist 98, 8997.
Li, J, Xie, RZ, Wang, KR, Ming, B, Guo, YQ, Zhang, GQ and Li, SK (2015 b) Variations in maize dry matter, harvest index, and grain yield with plant density. Agronomy Journal 107, 829834.
Li, W, Niu, Z, Chen, HY and Li, D (2017) Characterizing canopy structural complexity for the estimation of maize LAI based on ALS data and UAV stereo images. International Journal of Remote Sensing 38, 21062116.
Liu, T, Song, F, Liu, S and Zhu, X (2011) Canopy structure, light interception, and photosynthetic characteristics under different narrow-wide planting patterns in maize at silking stage. Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research 9, 12491261.
Maddonni, GA, Chelle, M, Drouet, JL and Andrieu, B (2001 a) Light interception of contrasting azimuth canopies under square and rectangular plant spatial distributions: simulations and crop measurements. Field Crops Research 70, 113.
Maddonni, GA, Otegui, ME and Cirilo, AG (2001 b) Plant population density, row spacing and hybrid effects on maize canopy architecture and light attenuation. Field Crops Research 71, 183193.
Maddonni, GA, Cirilo, AG and Otegui, ME (2006) Row width and maize grain yield. Agronomy Journal 98, 15321543.
Major, DJ, Beasley, BW and Hamilton, RI (1991) Effect of maize maturity on radiation-use efficiency. Agronomy Journal 83, 895903.
Montgomery, EC (1911) Correlation Studies in Corn. Annual Report no. 24. Lincoln, NE, USA: Nebraska AgricExp, Stn.
Ottman, MJ and Welch, LF (1989) Planting patterns and radiation interception, plant nutrient concentration, and yield in corn. Agronomy Journal 81, 167174.
Papadopoulos, AP and Pararajasingham, S (1997) The influence of plant spacing on light interception and use in greenhouse tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.): a review. Scientia Horticulturae 69, l29.
Pearce, RB, Brown, RH and Blaser, ER (1965) Relationships between leaf area index, light interception and net photosynthesis in Orchardgrass. Crop Science 5, 553556.
Pepper, GE, Pearce, RB and Mock, JJ (1977) Leaf orientation and yield of maize. Crop Science 17, 883886.
Ritchie, SW, Hanway, JJ and Benson, GO (1986) How a Corn Plant Develops. Special Report no. 48. Ames, IA, USA: Cooperative Extension Service. Iowa State University of Science and Technology/USDA.
Stewart, DW, Costa, C, Dwyer, LM, Smith, DL, Hamilton, RI and Ma, BL (2003) Canopy structure, light interception, and photosynthesis in maize. Agronomy Journal 95, 14651474.
Tharakan, PJ, Volk, TA, Nowak, CA and Ofezu, GJ (2008) Assessment of canopy structure, light interception, and light-use efficiency of first year regrowth of shrub willow (Salixsp.). BioEnergy Research 1, 229238.
Tokatlidis, IS and Koutroubas, SD (2004) A review of maize hybrids’ dependence on high plant populations and its implications for crop yield stability. Field Crops Research 88, 103114.
Toler, JE, Murdock, EC, Stapleton, GS and Wallace, SU (1999) Corn leaf orientation effects on light interception, intraspecific competition, and grain yields. Journal of Production Agriculture 12, 396399.
Tollenaar, M and Bruulsema, TW (1988) Efficiency of maize dry matter production during periods of complete leaf area expansion. Agronomy Journal 80, 580585.
Tollenaar, M and Lee, EA (2002) Yield potential, yield stability and stress tolerance in maize. Field Crops Research 75, 161169.
Tollenaar, M, Dibo, AA, Aguilara, A, Weise, SF and Swanton, CJ (1994) Effect of crop density on weed interference in maize. Agronomy Journal 86, 591595.
Torres, GM, Koller, A, Taylor, R and Raun, WR (2017) Seed-oriented planting improves light interception, radiation use efficiency and grain yield of maize. Experimental Agriculture 53, 210225.
Turc, O, Bouteille, M, Fuad-Hassan, A, Welcker, C and Tardieu, F (2016) The growth of vegetative and reproductive structures (leaves and silks) respond similarly to hydraulic cues in maize. New Phytologist 212, 377388.
Wang, K, Wang, KR, Wang, YH, Zhao, J, Zhao, RL, Wang, XM, Li, J, Liang, MX and Li, SK (2012) Effects of density on maize yield and yield components. Scientia Agricultura Sinica 45, 34373445.
Watiki, JM, Fukai, S, Banda, JA and Keating, BA (1993) Radiation interception and growth of maize/cowpea intercrop as affected by maize plant density and cowpea cultivar. Field Crops Research 35, 123133.
Westgate, ME, Forcella, F, Reicosky, DC and Somsen, J (1997) Rapid canopy closure for maize production in the northern US corn belt: radiation-use efficiency and grain yield. Field Crops Research 49, 249258.
Widdicombe, WD and Thelen, KD (2002) Row width and plant density effects on corn grain production in the northern corn belt. Agronomy Journal 94, 10201023.
Zhang, CZ, Zhang, JB, Zhang, H, Zhao, JH, Wu, QC, Zhao, ZH and Cai, TY (2015) Mechanisms for the relationships between water-use efficiency and carbon isotope composition and specific leaf area of maize under water stress. Plant Growth Regulation 77, 233243.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed