Winter wheat is seeded in late August or early September into a shallow seedbed to allow the plant to access enough water to germinate quickly and grow for four to five weeks. The next four to eight weeks (October to November) allow the plant to vernalize (giving the plant the signal to flower next spring) and acclimate to the cold (harden off for the winter). Ideally, this plant would be three to four leaves, have a tiller or two with developed crown tissue and would be ready to achieve winter wheat’s maximum yield potential next spring.
In extremely dry conditions, establishment can look quite different. Seeds could be anywhere from lying in dry dirt not germinated, to sprouted and not quite through the ground, to emerged crop in the one to three leaf stage in wet areas around sloughs or in low spots. In these delayed germination situations, vernalization may occur under cool spring conditions. The stage of crop development in the fall influences not only winter survival and yield potential but also crop competitiveness, maturity, and the risk of infection with diseases such as rust and fusarium head blight. The table below gives the best idea of what to expect from variable crop stages.
Please be aware that later-germinating winter wheat still has the potential to achieve high yield and profitability but management becomes more critical as the crop is often not as competitive.