Indiana Wheat: Get Ready for Spring Herbicide Applications


The date on the calendar may indicate that we are still in the winter season, but the weather outside would indicate otherwise.  The temperatures of the past winter have been mild especially throughout late February.  The mild winter and early spring like conditions are not only favorable for a good wheat crop, but also for winter annual weeds.

Winter annual weeds that occur in wheat fields over the winter will also be taking full advantage of the spring like conditions to get a jump-start to the season.  Many wheat producers, especially in the southern regions of Indiana will soon be or already are topdressing their wheat to take advantage of this favorable weather.

Those looking into topdressing need to also be scouting for weeds and determining if a herbicide application is necessary on any existing winter annual weeds.  The following information will outline winter annual weeds to look out for, weed scouting tips, crop stage restrictions, and herbicide recommendations.

Some common broadleaf weeds to scout for in your winter wheat are dandelion, purple deadnettle, henbit, chickweed, Canada thistle, and wild garlic.  These winter annual species that emerge in the fall can remain relatively inconspicuous though the winter and become competitive and troublesome during the spring if not controlled early in the spring.

Summer annual weeds such as ragweed will be of less concern in the early spring and will be outcompeted by the wheat crop if managed properly, especially in the favorable conditions currently being experienced.  Grass weeds to be aware of and scouting for are: annual bluegrass, annual ryegrass, cheat, and downy brome.

Determining the severity of weed infestations in your wheat fields is key in determining the necessity of a herbicide application.  As with all agronomic crops, you should scout your entire field to determine what weed management practices need to be implemented and determine any areas of severe weed infestations.

Wheat fields that contain uniform infestations of at least one broadleaf weed and/or three grass weeds per square foot should be taken into consideration for a herbicide application to avoid yield loss and harvest interference problems.  Some fields that have less uniform infestations, but rather pockets of severe infestation should be managed to reduce weed seed production and future infestations.

When determining your herbicide program for spring applications, the stage of the wheat crop should be considered. The majority of wheat herbicides are labeled for application at certain wheat growth stages and some commonly used herbicides have very short windows in which they can be applied.

The popular broadleaf weed herbicides 2,4-D and MCPA are efficient and economical, but can only be applied for a short period of time between tillering and prior to jointing. This is a short window that occurs early in the spring and may occur even earlier this year if current weather conditions hold into the spring. Wheat growth stages and herbicide timing restriction are outlined in Figure 1.

Herbicide Resistance Info

If weed infestations are severe enough to require a herbicide application, the use of liquid nitrogen fertilizer solution as a carrier is a popular option for applying herbicides and topdressing the wheat crop in a single pass over the field. Caution should be taken when using a liquid fertilizer as a herbicide carrier as moderate to severe crop injury can result, especially in saturated conditions.

Many post applied wheat herbicide labels allow for liquid nitrogen carriers, but require different rates and types surfactants than if the herbicide was applied with water as the carrier. Table 1 (see source link below) includes precautions to be taken when applying wheat herbicide using liquid fertilizer as a carrier; further details and directions can be acquired from the herbicide label.

Another consideration growers should take into account when planning early spring herbicide applications is the plant back restrictions to double crop soybeans. A large percentage of the herbicides listed in Table 1, especially those with activity on Ryegrass and Brome, have soybean plant back restrictions greater than the typical three month time period between spring applications and double crop soybean planting. The soybean plant back restrictions greatly reduce the number of options available to wheat producers who double crop soybeans after wheat. Refer to Table 1 for more specific plant back timing restrictions.

Figure 1. Feek's scale of winter wheat stages and herbicide application timings.
Figure 1. Feek’s scale of winter wheat stages and herbicide application timings. Click Image to Enlarge

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