Identifying Wheat Seedlings in Turfgrass

Yes, we’re talking about the common cereal crop most often used in the production of baking flour. Sadly, wheat plants frequently show up this time of year in lawns that were meticulously planted the previous fall.

A very common practice is to use wheat straw (a byproduct of the grain’s production) as mulch on newly seeded lawns to help retain moisture and prevent soil erosion during the grow-in process. Unfortunately for farmers, they sometimes are not able to completely “thresh out” (remove) all the desired grain/seed from their wheat crop. Like all plant species, wheat will sometime produce “off bio types” that ripen later in the season. They end up staying with the straw and occasionally showing up as a weed in new lawns.

If anyone is to blame for this phenomenon, it’s Mother Nature. Seed suppliers, contractors, and certainly wheat farmers don’t want this to happen. If you want to confirm you are dealing with wheat and not some other “crabgrass” which every other grassy weed is often referred to, see the information and photos below. Break out your hand lens and examine a suspect plant in detail.

Key Wheat Identification Characteristics 

  1. The leaf sheath is round and split, with overlapping margins. If holding a single plant by the sheath area, the plant will roll easily between your fingers (called “rolled in the whorl”). This area may or may not have fine hair.
  2. Wheat auricles are blunt and have fine hairs on them. Sometimes the auricles look translucent.
  3. The ligule is medium in length, slightly rounded, with a frayed edge. Generally, it’s semi-translucent.
  4. When looking at the leaf blades on wheat from above, they twist clockwise.
  5. Wheat will likely have multiple tillers branching out from the main stem, as it is a bunch-type grass.

If your new lawn does have some wheat contamination, the good news is wheat is an annual crop. Provided you don’t let it produce its own seed, it will soon be gone. The regular mowing process will prevent seed head production just as it typically does for the desirable grass you planted. Come late June or early July, wheat plants will complete their life cycle and naturally die off.


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