How To Plant Winter Wheat {5 Best Pratices}

Wheat can be grown in spring or winter. Naturally, because plants tend to want to grow well in the springtime, sowing your wheat in spring and growing it to maturity through the summer months is quite a bit easier than planting winter wheat. Even so, in the southern United States winter wheat is the norm. In this article, we discuss the techniques that can help you plant winter wheat successfully. Read on to learn more on how to plant winter wheat.

Establish The Basics

establish the basics for winter wheat farming

If you want to have a successful winter wheat crop, there are five basic factors that you must attend to.

1. Sow Your Seed Early

The most important thing you can do is to get your seed into the ground early enough that your seedlings get a good start and have an excellent chance of surviving the winter.

If your plants have more than three leaves when winter starts, they’ll have a much better chance of having well-developed crowns. This is the area at the base of the plant that will regrow in the springtime, even if the upper part of the plant dies back.

Even so, you must be careful not to sow your seed too early. If you do this, your plant may become too mature before the winter sets in. This will increase the chances that it will be injured by winter weather. Additionally, larger plants have more of a chance of developing snow mold.

The key is to find just the right window of opportunity to sow seed for a winter crop. In most areas where winter wheat is common, the first two weeks of September are ideal. Don’t despair if you miss this window of opportunity, though. Getting started a little later can still yield success.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to wait for rain before sowing wheat seed. It doesn’t take much moisture for winter wheat to germinate. If the weather is very dry, go ahead and sow the seed into dry soil. When it rains, the seed will germinate.

2. Sow Your Seed Heavily

A high seeding rate creates a more uniform and dense stand of wheat, and this is very important in areas with high moisture. It is especially important to crop competitiveness, winter survival and yield potential. The ideal target rate for winter wheat is to have between thirty and thirty-five plants per square foot.

Determining this can be a bit tricky because factors such as soil condition, weather conditions and seed size can make big differences in the amount of seed you sow.

Your best bet is to consult with your county extension agent to discuss the type of seed you want to sow, test your soil and figure out exactly how much seed you’ll need to hit your target rate.

3. Don’t Cover The Seed Too Deeply

In the autumn months, the soil can be quite dry. When this is the case, you should sow your wheat seeds shallowly. A half an inch depth is ideal. Be sure not to sow wheat seed deeper thanone inch. Shallow planting gives the seeds the opportunity to make the most of autumn rains.

It takes very little rain to get a shallowly planted seed to germinate, but seeds that are planted too deep may not be able to sprout and emerge from the soil as seedlings successfully. A struggle through too much soil can result in a leggy plant that is quite likely to die in the winter.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the soil over the seeds should be lightly tamped down to be certain that all parts of the seed surface are in contact with the soil. This helps ensure that the seed gets plenty of moisture to spur germination.

4. Sow The Seed Carefully And Slowly

If you are machine sowing your wheat seed, go slowly and carefully. If you rush, you’re very likely to reduce your crop’s chances of success and high yield. Move along slowly about 4 miles an hour, and you’ll notice a big difference in the outcome at harvest time.

5. Be Sure To Make Use Of A Seed Treatment

Talk with your county extension agent to determine what type of seed treatments might benefit your crop. There are many factors to keep in mind when choosing seed treatments. Among them are:

  • Seed Quality
  • Crop Rotation
  • Weather Conditions

Additionally, knowing the history of your field will help you to choose the right kind of seed treatments. For example, if that particular field has had a history of a certain type of insect predation or fungal infection, use that knowledge as your guide when choosing the seed treatment.

When Do You Plant Winter Wheat?

when do you plant winter wheat

Generally speaking, winter wheat should be sown into a shallow seedbed late in the month of August or early in September. This gives the plants enough opportunity to get water for successful germination and to grow for a little over a month.

During the next month or two, the plant will harden off (acclimate) for the winter. Also, during this time, the plant will vernalize. This is the term used to describe the process that takes place letting the plant know that it will need to flower in the springtime.

If you have a very dry late, summer and early autumn, vernalization may be delayed until the springtime.

Wheat plants that reach an appropriate stage of maturity before winter sets in will be more likely to be able to fight off diseases such as fusarium head blight and rust.

Don’t Sow Winter Wheat On Bare Ground

don't sow winter wheat on bare ground

Another way you can protect your winter wheat from damage during the cold weather is to sow it into standing stubble. This helps to insulate the seedlings somewhat during the cold winter months.

Additionally, the stubble will hold snow over the seedlings, and that provides even more insulation for the crown of the plant.

Snow cover of about a half an inch to an inch deep will help keep your young plants above killing temperatures even if the ambient temperature is well below freezing.

For the best results, you need about four inches of snow over your resting plants. An added bonus of having a good snow cover is that you’ll start the spring months with a nice, gradual watering.

It’s best to sow into thick, tall stubble of a forage crop or plants such as:

  • Canola
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Flax

Of course, wheat stubble could be used; however, doing this could increase the risk of the spread of wheat diseases such as, wheat streak mosaic virus or pests such as wheat curl mite

When harvesting, avoid disturbing your stubble bed. Having a good cover of stubble and crop residue is a benefit to future crops.

Winter Wheat Makes A Good Cover Crop

It’s worth noting that winter wheat is not only grown as a cash crop. Sometimes it is used as a means of preventing and reducing erosion damage and improving the soil for a later crop. Cover crops are valuable because they help keep problems such as weeds, diseases and pests under control.

As it grows, winter wheat helps increase the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water. Additionally, the plants’ roots help aerate the soil. In the springtime, when the wheat is tilled under, it decomposes and enriches the soil with organic matter.

Learn more on the purpose of sifting/threshing wheat.

Top Winter Wheat Planting Tips

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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