Frost damage to small grains

In the spring, the tender growing point of spring wheat and barley is insulated and protected by the soil. The growing point produces all leaves and, eventually, the spike.

A protected growing point

Up to about the 5-leaf stage, the growing point is located at the crown that’s about 1.5 inches below the soil surface. It’s easy to recognize the crown as a hard knob from which both roots and leaves start.

This evolutionary adaptation that hides the growing point and protects it from the elements is precisely why small grains fit so well in Minnesota.

Frost injury
Photo 1: Frost injury on young barley plants.

Signs of damage 

Frost damage will initially have a dark green, water-soaked appearance that will quickly dry out, leaving the tissue white to tan (Photo 1). 

Frozen and dried-up leaf tips often break off with a little wind and give the field a very ragged appearance. New growth should not show any symptoms.

Jochum Wiersma, Extension agronomist

Reviewed in 2018

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