In the coming weeks as the weather warms, up winter wheat will break dormancy and will begin to green up. After a period of about 2 weeks producers should evaluate their stand in order to make management decisions for their wheat crop. Part of this evaluation includes counting tillers to determine if there is an adequate stand for achieving high yields. According an article in a 2014 C.O.R.N. Newsletter written by Laura Lindsey, Ed Lentz, Pierce Paul, “Yield potential is reduced if tiller numbers fall below 25 per square foot after green up.”
So, what is a tiller? And how should they be counted? Tillers are additional stems that develop off of the main shoot of the plant. Primary tillers form in the axils of the first four or more true leaves of the main stem. Secondary tillers may develop from the base of primary tillers if conditions favor tiller development. On the wheat plant pictured above, you can count 6 tillers in addition to the main shoot.
Tillers, especially those that develop in the fall, are needed to achieve high yielding wheat. The plant pictured above has the potential to develop 6 to 7 heads. A wheat stand of 1.65 to 1.7 million plants per acre with this amount of tillering (6 to 7 heads), a 100 bushels per acre yield is possible. While fall tiller development is promoted by timely planting and applying fall N, determining if stands are adequate and applying N at green up are also critical components in a management program that produces high wheat yields.