When To Plant Winter Wheat – Planting Guide 2024

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Triticum aestivum or winter wheat is a strain of wheat known for its ability to survive the cold of winter during its vegetative stage.

It also needs exposure to the cold in order to facilitate reproduction.

In that case, when do you need to start planting winter wheat?

When to plant winter wheat? The best time to plant winter wheat is from mid-September to early December. Planting too early may lead to lower grain yields, lower winter hardiness, and an increased risk of foliar diseases. Plant too late, and your seeds won’t have enough time to get established before the snow arrives.

Planting Winter Wheat in Different Climates

Winter wheat is a versatile wheat crop popular among farmers because of its hardiness and good profit potential.

It is typically grown as a cash crop, but it’s worth noting that it also makes a good cover crop.

When used as a cover crop, winter wheat effectively prevents soil erosion. It also helps build soil with its deep and extensive root structure.

If you want to try your luck in growing this crop, here’s what you can expect depending on where you are:

Tropical Climate

Unfortunately, the weather in the tropics is not suitable for winter wheat.

This wheat crop isn’t capable of surviving in areas with heavy rainfall and no cold season.

Dry Climate

Since precipitation is substantially low in regions with dry climates, growing winter wheat in these zones will be risky.

That said, you have a few things to keep in mind should you consider taking the associated risks, such as soil crusting and erosion.

Seeding Depth

When growing winter wheat in dry climates, soil moisture may exist further below the soil’s surface.

To access it, it is a good idea to plant the seeds up to three inches deep.

Coleoptile Length

Coleoptile is the protective sheath that covers and protects the emerging shoot.

Since you will be planting deeper than usual, choose a winter wheat variety with long coleoptiles.

This will ensure that the seed will successfully emerge from the ground.

Use of GA3

Also known as Gibberellic Acid, GA3 is an organic compound that promotes growth and stimulates stem elongation.

Using GA3 will improve the height and weight of the planted seeds, thereby increasing the chances of greater plant growth despite dry soil conditions.

Temperate Climate

Regions with temperate climates usually experience periodic drought.

Drought stress is directly linked to a decrease in wheat seeding growth. Hence, seeding dates may vary based on current environmental conditions.

Plant your winter wheat at the earliest possible date when less favorable conditions are likely to occur.

Continental Climate

Winter wheat is highly sensitive to extreme heat during its flowering and growth phase.

Heat stress can directly impact the final grain yield and yield components, so watch out for relatively dry soil conditions.

Always check if soil moisture is still ideal and water when you see fit.

Polar Climate

If planted correctly, winter is a favorable climate and is highly beneficial for winter wheat.

Plant early enough for your wheat to have a good crown development before a hard freeze.

Also, ensure there is sufficient snow cover on your field to prevent winterkill. About three to six inches of snow cover should do the trick.

Choosing Winter Wheat Seeds

Picking the right variety might be overwhelming, given that there are several options for you to choose from.

You will find both high- and low-protein wheat varieties with outstanding milling and baking characteristics.

You can use it as an all-purpose flour or a blending flour.

One important factor to consider in choosing a variety is its tolerance to diseases.

It might be a good idea to treat the seeds with fungicides to minimize losses brought by many seed-borne diseases.

These include powdery mildew, loose smut, brown rust, and the like.

You might want to check out these high-yielding winter wheat varieties proven to have good resistance to many common seed diseases:

  • Costello
  • Graham
  • JB Diego
  • KWS Conros
  • Torp
  • SY Insitor

How To Plant Winter Wheat Seeds

Winter wheat is planted during fall and harvested in early spring.

Fortunately, its seeds are widely available due to the crop’s popularity, so you won’t have a hard time sourcing them.

Below is a step-by-step guide to planting winter wheat seeds:

Step 1: Pick a spot.

The ideal planting site for winter wheat is on central plains.

It is here that your winter wheat will be able to utilize winter snows and spring rains for rapid growth.

You can also grow winter wheat if you have ample space in your garden. Just keep in mind that your planting site must have full sun exposure.

Winter wheat needs plenty of sun exposure while growing, preferably six hours of direct sunlight during summer.

Step 2: Test the soil.

Winter wheat thrives the most in well-draining, loamy soil.

A soil pH of 6.5 is the most optimal for winter wheat growth. Applying lime can help in correcting the soil pH.

As the most yield-limiting nutrient in wheat production, nitrogen must be properly managed to reach the maximum yield potential of winter wheat.

About two to 2.5 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of grain is required. Note that an imbalanced level of nitrogen will lead to yield-reducing problems.

Step 3: Spread the seeds and rake.

Wait until after the fly-free date in your region to start planting.

This is because winter wheat is the most preferred host of one of the most highly destructive pest species of wheat, the Hessian Fly.

Scatter your seeds over the soil once you’re sure it’s the best time to plant winter wheat.

You can use a seed spreader for even coverage, aiming for one seed per square.

Gently rake the soil to cover the seeds. Be sure not to cover your seeds more than three inches deep.

Step 4: Add a layer of straw.

Spread two to four inches of straw mulch on top of the soil. Adding mulch will aid in moisture retention and will also help control weeds.

Step 5: Water the seeds.

Remember to keep the planting site moist until your wheat starts to grow.

How To Water Winter Wheat

Approximately 500mm of water is needed for winter wheat to reach its physiological maturity, with peak water use from 1.5 to 2mm per day before its cold acclimation.

If the soil is dry before seeding begins, you should water the ground with 15mm of water.

During the vegetative growth stage, up to 50 percent of water in the root zone must be maintained.

Then, at the flowering growth stage, where adequate soil water is most critical, soil water must not go below 60 percent.

Once it has reached maturity, water is no longer needed.

How To Grow Winter Wheat

Like any other crop, planning is crucial for your efforts to pay off.

The key to successfully growing winter wheat is to sow its seeds at the right time.

As mentioned, planting too early may cause excessive fall growth, which will reduce the soil moisture and nutrients.

In comparison, planting too late may not give sufficient time for your wheat to get established before a hard frost arrives.

The best time to start sowing your seeds is in September, right after the fly-free date in your area.

Seeding rates must also be considered to maximize your grain yields.

The wheat seeding rate should be based on seeds per acre rather than pounds simply because seed size varies.

According to Kansas State University’s official winter wheat website, the recommended seeding rate is 60 to 75 pounds of seeds per acre.

Winter wheat is not as prone to diseases as other crops, but there is one wheat disease that can cause significant yield loss.

Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus (WSMV), transmitted by wheat curl mite, is a globally distributed disease.

It starts as small chlorotic yellow lines and develops to form a mosaic pattern in the leaves, leading to leaf tissue necrosis and, eventually, plant death.

Luckily, you can prevent WSMV if you avoid planting earlier than the recommended planting dates.

You may also opt for resistant or tolerant winter wheat varieties, such as WB-Grainfield, LCS Mint, Oahe, and Wesley.

How Long Does Winter Wheat Take To Grow?

Winter wheat seeds are generally sown during fall, acclimate in winter, and are ready to be harvested in summer.

It will take approximately 240 days or eight months to grow. Winter wheat planted in the fall is ready to be harvested in the summer.

Winter wheat will remain vegetative and not progress to its reproductive stage without exposure to the cold.

This crop requires subfreezing temperatures for an extended period to trigger its reproductive phase for the following spring.

This is known as cold acclimation or cold hardening.

Cold acclimation typically starts once temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

By then, it will take about four to six weeks to reach the required hardiness level.

Growing Winter Wheat

When growing winter wheat, be wary of dry spells or droughts, which significantly affect yield during flowering and filling stages.

Always check your soil and maintain the necessary water percentage to prevent adverse effects from drought stress.

Growing winter wheat may require special attention to achieve equal opportunity brought by other wheat crops.

Once you’ve learned the basics, you’ll realize that growing winter wheat is relatively easy and worth it.

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