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Has Your Newly Planted Wheat Been Impacted by All the Fires?

Posted by Blythe Howell | September 21, 2020

When we hear that a wheat field has burned, as seen in Figures 1 and 2, we often think of a combine fire at harvest (See, “Fire Prevention and Safety Tips During Harvest”), lightning strikes or the carelessly lit cigarette being tossed out resulting in lost bushels.
Newly planted wheat that's been burned.(Figure 1.)
Close up of singed wheat base.
(Figure 2.)
Rarely do we think of a newly-planted field of emerged wheat being burned, however, under the right circumstances, such as a wildfire with 40-50+ mph winds, this can occur (see Figure 3).

The question being asked is whether these fields need to be re-seeded, especially if plants are exhibiting the following visual damage in figure 4.


(Figure 3.)
(Figure 4.) Newly emerged wheat burned in the Pearl Hill fire.
4-leaf stage.
(Figure 5.) Adapted from Klepper and Rickman, USDA-ARS.
Grasses, unlike broadleaves, grow from a growing point known as the crown (Figure 5). If the crown was still below the ground and survived the heat of the fire, then the plants will likely recover provided there is adequate moisture in the ground. It is recommended to check those areas where the fire was more intense and determine if the crowns are still alive. If the plants start to elongate after a few days, then I would not recommend re-seeding. They should begin to grow out rather quickly. For other areas burned, such as pasture that may require re-seeding, the following WSU Extension publication, “Seeding After A Fire (FS206E)” has a wealth of helpful information.

The visual damage can look devastating but a closer look can reveal a more accurate estimation of the potential damage. Digging a few plans can reveal whether there is still green or white healthy tissue.

If after a few days the tissue has yellowed and wilted then the plant may be dead. On the other hand if the tissue is still firm and started to elongate the plant is still alive. The plants may be weakened from the event but will still be a better result than reseeding at this later date.

If after a few days the tissue has yellowed and wilted then the plant may be dead. On the other hand if the tissue is still firm and started to elongate the plant is still alive. The plants may be weakened from the event but will still be a better result than reseeding at this later date.


Dale Whaley.
For questions or comments, contact Dale Whaley via email at dwhaley@wsu.edu.

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