Assessing Winter Wheat Survival

Spring is right around the corner…hopefully! It is that time of year where producers start thinking about their winter wheat crop and how it survived our Manitoba winter.  There are 3 common ways to assess winter survival.

1. Sod Extraction Method – A producer can extract several ‘sods’ from the field with a shovel.  Warm up the sods inside while keeping the soil moist.  In 5 to 7 days, assess the crowns for new root growth which indicates the plant has survived.

2.  Bag Test Method – This method was developed by Ducks Unlimited in North Dakota and involves five easy steps:

1)      Dig or chisel plants out of the soil without damaging the crown.

2)      Rinse the soil off the crown and roots.

3)      Using scissors, trim off the roots and leaves and all but one inch of the stem above the crown.

4)      Put the crowns in a Ziploc bag and puff some air into it before sealing.

5)      Keep at room temperature and observe every 2 days.  Repeat the rinsing and air every 2 days.

Plants that are alive will extend leaves and grow new white roots.  If new growth is not observed after 6 days, consider the plant dead.  There is a good YouTube® video illustrating this method at:

3. The Wait for Spring Growth Method – This method requires producers wait until the crop breaks dormancy and new root growth commences out in the field; this could take until mid-May in some years depending on spring weather conditions.  This method does still require producers dig up plants within the field as brown, dried leaves do not necessarily indicate winter injury, and green overwintering leaves are not a sure sign that the crop has survived.  To properly assess, dig up some plants, rinse the roots with water and examine the crown for the development of new white roots.  If new roots are developing, and the crown appears white and healthy, the plant is likely in good condition.

Regardless of method used to assess winter survival, producers should still scout their winter wheat fields to determine plant stands. It has occurred where plants will green up and then slowly go ‘backwards’ and eventually die; there are enough nutrients in the crown to allow the plants to green up, but if winter injury occurred, it can cause vascular damage so that the nutrients that are left cannot move, or root rot diseases can move in and kill the plants.  So don’t scout the field once and assume all is okay.

Additional information on winter wheat production is available on Crop Chatter:

 Submitted by:  Pam de Rocquigny, Provincial Cereal Crops Specialist, MAFRD

Additional information on winter wheat production is available on MAFRD’s website at:

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