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Wheat tillering potential may be affected by recent moisture, soil cover

Where recent rainfall was too heavy or too intense, wheat seed furrows became filled in with soil and left wheat seedlings under more soil than normal. Plants may still be able to tiller. There may be fewer tillers than normal, however.

Recent rains were welcomed by wheat farmers across the Kansas, but in some cases the rains caused some concerns. Where the rainfall was too heavy or too intense, seed furrows became filled in with soil and left wheat seedlings under more soil than normal, said Jim Shroyer, K-State Research and Extension crop production specialist.

“I’ve had lots of calls about this from western areas. Farmers have seen their wheat seedlings covered up by soil where heavy rains fell and the fields were deeply furrowed by the drills at planting time,” Shroyer said. “They want to know if this wheat will still be able to tiller.”

The answer depends in part on how much growth remains above the soil surface, Shroyer said.

“Assuming that there are some leaves showing above this layer of new soil in the seed furrows at this time, the plants will still be able to tiller. There may be fewer tillers than normal, however,” he said.

Most tillers form in the axils of leaves, which will be at the crown level. The crown normally establishes about a half-inch below the soil surface, regardless of how deeply the seed was planted.

“When the crown is deeper in the soil than normal, it will be cooler and this can reduce the level of tiller initiation activity going on near the crown,” Shroyer explained.

Also, if the seedling has been covered with soil, the tiller will have to push through more than the usual half-inch of soil to emerge, he said. This takes extra effort, but is certainly not impossible.

Farmers also want to know if the main shoot and leaves will continue to grow normally where they have been covered with soil.

“Yes, if three or more leaves are present above the soil surface. Any shoots and leaves that make it above the soil surface will grow normally. Potential head size will not be affected by this. If only one leaf is sticking out of the ground (or none at all), however, the plants cannot be expected to develop normally,” Shroyer said.

The bottom line is that if the stand is good and there are three or more leaves visible above the soil surface, then there’s probably no need to replant just because the seed furrows were filled in with soil, the agronomist said.

“You can probably expect fewer tillers per plant, depending on how deep the crown has been buried. That may reduce yield potential somewhat – but not enough to justify replanting. If the stand has been thinned out, however, or if the plants are buried so that no leaves or only one leaf is visible, replanting may be a good idea,” he said.


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