EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a perfect world, wheat should be planted right after the Hessian fly-free date. (The standard fly-free date is during the first week of September in the northern Lower Peninsula, around mid-September in mid-state areas, and approximately the third or fourth week of September for southern Michigan.) Highest yields are often attained when seedlings emerge within two weeks following the posted fly-free date, assuming heat unit accumulation is near average in October and November. The goal is to plant early enough to achieve two to three tillers produced before the winter vernalization period.
That being said, planting early isn’t always possible. More often than not, weather conditions and the harvest of preceding soybeans make it very difficult to plant wheat on time.
The recommended seeding rate for wheat is to plant between 1.2 and 2.2 million seeds per acre. If you are planting within a week of the hessian fly-free date, use seeding rates on the lower end of the range to avoid overly thick stands that can promote disease development and increase the likelihood of lodging the following season.
As the calendar advances, seeding rates should become progressively higher. If planting continues into the third week of October, increase your seeding rates to 1.8 or 2.0 million seeds per acre or more (28 or more seeds per foot of row). Also, planting shallower (around 1 inch or less) will allow the seedlings to emerge quicker and start tillering. If planting in early November, these seedlings may not emerge until next spring.
As fall progresses, late planted wheat seeds might be slower to emerge due to lower temperatures; in order to protect the vulnerable seed from soil-borne diseases, fungicide seed treatments should always be used.
If you plan to plant wheat in late October or even early November, apply approximately 20 pounds per acre of nitrogen fertilizer this fall, hoping that an extended fall season may allow some tiller development. To further promote tillering, apply some or all of next spring’s nitrogen early during green-up.
As a final reminder, in case you are pondering on planting spring wheat as an alternative for unplanted winter wheat acres, make sure to consider several factors such as market access, seed sourcing and yield potential before going on that route.
— Ricardo Costa and Dennis Pennington, Michigan State University Extension
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