Planting wheat in hot soils

Kickoff of the college football season and the start of wheat planting are Labor Day traditions in the southern Great Plains. Many producers are waiting to see if rain forecasted for this weekend materializes, but it is likely that forage-based wheat farmers will start sowing wheat next week whether it rains or not. This means sowing wheat into hot soil conditions which can cause wheat germination and emergence issues. Given the potential problems, there are a few questions producers should ask themselves prior to planting into soil temperatures >90F.

coleoptile length

If the wheat coleoptile does not break the soil surface, the germinating wheat plant will not survive.

Will you have to plant deep to reach moisture? That first structure protruding from a germinating wheat seed is actually not a leaf. It is the coleoptile. The wheat coleoptile is a rigid structure whose sole purpose is to “punch through” the soil surface so that the first true leaf emerges above the soil surface. If this does not happen, the first true leaf will try to extend below the soil surface, turn yellow, and take on an accordion-like appearance (picture above). Modern semi-dwarf wheat varieties have shorter coleoptiles than older, tall wheat varieties and coleoptile length is shortened even further by hot soil conditions. So it is important to plant a variety with a longer coleoptile length (e.g. Garrison or Doans) if planting deeply into hot soils. A rating of coleoptile lengths for wheat varieties can be found in OSU Fact Sheet 2141 OSU Wheat Variety Comparison Chart available at or at the direct link to the publication here.

Is the variety high temperature germination sensitive? High temperature germination sensitivity is a fancy way of saying that some wheat varieties simply don’t germinate well in hot soil conditions (e.g. 2174, Overley). The extent of the sensitivity varies by year, so Overley might germinate fine in 95F soils one year and produce a 10% stand in the same soil conditions the next. When sowing early, it is best to plant varieties that do not have high temperature germination sensitivity (e.g. Duster, Gallagher, or Armour). Soil conditions generally cool due to lower ambient temperatures or cooling rains by about September 20; however our summer temperatures seem to be arriving late this year, so it is best to know the level of germination sensitivity in the variety you are planting. A rating of high temperature germination sensitivity for wheat varieties can be found in the variety comparison chart linked above. A more detailed explanation of the phenomenon can be found in OSU Fact Sheet PSS 2256 Factors affecting wheat germination and stand establishment in hot soils (available by clicking here).

Partial funding for the research included in this blog post was provided by USDA Project No.2012-02355 through the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Regional Approaches for Adaptation to and Mitigation of Climate Variability and Change

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