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Is the wheat dead?

Richard Snell
Barton County Extension Agent

The recent severe cold in our area and throughout the state may have some producers concerned about winter injury on their wheat. It’s normal for well-established wheat to look a little ragged, or show some wear and tear from being under severely cold temperatures for several days. This can cause the leaves to be purple or they may be brownish or yellowish, but this is just cosmetic damage most of the time and not a source of concern.

The biggest concern would be for the crown of the wheat if soil temperatures get too low. The following situations would be most likely to cause concern:

• Where wheat is very small and poorly developed for this time of year which would typically be the wheat planted very late.

• Where there is no snow cover.

• Where the soils are dry.

• On ridge tops and north-facing slopes.

Typically, we don’t start to worry too much about winter survival of wheat until temperatures at crown level (usually 1-2 inches deep) get below 10-12 degrees F.

Where there is snow cover, soil temperatures will not get that cold. Where there is no snow cover, soil temperatures will depend on how much moisture is in the ground, how cold it gets, and how long it has been cold. There probably was good snow cover in the eastern half of the state and in the northwest when we had those 10 days where it never got above freezing. So, southwest and central Kansas may be the worst off.

If you are concerned about the possibility of winter injury, wait until the weather warms up above freezing and dig up some plants from different fields. Put the plants in pots and bring them inside. After a week or so inside, the plants should start to green up. If plants do not green up after 10 days or so, you should go out and take more samples before making any decisions.


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