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Ohio State University Extension


Wheat as a Cover Crop in Ohio

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Sarah Noggle; Educator; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County
Rachel Cochran; Extension Associate, Water Quality; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County

Information gathered from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) was used to compile this summary on how to use wheat as a cover crop in Ohio. For more information, see the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and the Cover Crop Selector Tool found at: growing rows of green, bushy plants with long, broad, grass-like blades.


  • Flat, narrow leaves
  • Often has tillers

Cultural Traits

  • Winter annual
    • Winter wheat requires vernalization to produce grain.
  • Minimum germination temperature: 38 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window (state average): Sept. 28–Nov. 1
    • The average Ohio fly-free date is Sept. 28.
  • Upright growth habit: 3–4 feet
  • Preferred soil pH: 6.0–7.5
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop wheat.
Heat tolerance Good
Drought tolerance Good
Shade tolerance Good
Low fertility tolerance Very good

Winter survival

  • Spring wheat is cold-tolerant  but is not winter hardy.
Expected for winter wheat


  • Drilled at ¾–1½ inches
    • 50–90 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 55–90 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast without incorporation
    • 60–90 lb./acre (pure live seed)

Additional planting information:

  • 11,400 seeds per lb.
  • Plant after fly-free date (Sept. 28).
  • When planting on slopes or using for forage/grazing, increase seeding rate.
  • Broadcasting without incorporation is usually less dependable than drilling or broadcasting with incorporation.

Rules for Financial Assistance Program Recipients
Individuals participating in financial assistance programs are required to follow Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Appendix A regarding seeding rates and dates. Failure to do so will jeopardize payments. Appendix A can be found in Ohio’s Field Office Technical Guide, Section 4, Ecological Sciences Tools:


  • Dry matter = 2,000–5,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation.

Additional performance information:

  • Wheat is effective for weed suppression, but it is less effective than other cool-season cereals because it doesn’t produce as much biomass.
  • Wheat may reduce sclerotinia and is a non-host for sugar beet cyst nematode, soybean cyst nematode, and root knot nematode.
  • Wheat is not recommended as a cover crop around corn due to similar diseases and pests.
  • Plant after Hessian fly-free date as a cover crop.
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop wheat.
Nitrogen scavenger Very good
Soil builder Very good
Erosion fighter Excellent
Weed fighter Very good
Grazing Excellent
Quick growth Very good
Lasting residue Very good
Mechanical forage harvest Very good
Grain seed harvest Excellent


  • Tillage
    • If terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required.
  • Roller crimper
    • Roller crimping is the most difficult/variable termination method.
    • Crimp during reproductive stage (full bloom).
  • Chemical

Additional termination information:

  • Wheat can become a weed if not completely terminated.
  • It is best to terminate when plants are small except when rolling/crimping.
  • Mowing after heading may terminate.
  • Terminate wheat at least 14 days before planting corn, or when it is 6–8 inches in height, to reduce potential for negative rotation effects, including nitrogen immobilization and allelopathy.
  • Adjust termination dates based on soil moisture.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop wheat.
Soil Impacts
Subsoiler Good
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Very good
Compaction fighter Good
Chokes weeds Good
Bears traffic Good when drilled
Short windows Very good

Potential Disadvantages

Delayed emergence: occasionally a minor problem

Increased weed potential: could be a minor problem

Increased insects/nematodes: could be a moderate problem

  • Wheat curl mite can spread wheat streak mosaic virus.
  • Wheat could increase risk of spring cutworm and potato stem borer.
  • Wheat is a host for penetrans root lesion nematode.

Increased crop diseases: could be a moderate problem

Hinders crops: could be a minor problem

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a moderate problem


This publication was adapted with consent from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) with content from the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and Cover Crop Selector Tool ( It was created under a joint project with MCCC to produce customized introductory guidance about cover crops for all member states/provinces. Ohio cover crop recipes can be found at

The Midwest Cover Crops Council ( aims to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest by providing educational/outreach resources and programs, conducting new research, and communicating about cover crops to the public.

Funding for this project was provided by McKnight Foundation.

Red square with white lettering spelling McKnight Foundation.



Originally posted Apr 4, 2023.