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Spring barley growth and development guide

Understanding barley growth and development is essential for profitable production.

This is because many of today’s agricultural chemicals must be applied at critical times, which means producers must recognize barley growth stages.

By using physiological maturity indicators, you can make harvest decisions that will maximize crop yield potential.

How barley develops


Growth staging systems

A number of staging systems have evolved for describing the development of cereal crops such as barley.

We describe the Zadoks system, which is the most comprehensive and may be the most helpful guide when making management decisions. In addition, we introduce the Haun and Feekes-Large staging systems.


Table 1: Condensed summary of the Zadoks two-digit code system for growth staging in barley with corresponding Feekes scale

Zadoks code:
Principal stage
Zadoks code:
Secondary stage
Description Corresponding
Feekes code
0 Germination
0 Dry kernel
1 Start of imbibition (water absorption)
5 Radicle emerged
7 Coleoptile emerged
9 Leaf just at coleoptile tip
1 Seeding development 1
0 First leaf through coleoptile
1 First leaf at least 50 percent emerged
2 Second leaf at least 50 percent emerged
3 Third leaf at least 50 percent emerged
4 4 Fourth leaf at least 50 percent emerged
5 Fifth leaf at least 50 percent emerged
2 Tillering
0 Main shoot only
1 Main shoot plus one tiller visible 2
2 Main shoot plus two tillers
3 Main shoot plus three tillers
4 Main shoot plus four tillers
5 Main shoot plus five tillers 3
3 Stem elongation
1 First node detectable 6
2 Second node detectable 7
3 Third node detectable
7 Flag leaf just visible 8
9 Flag leaf collar just visible 9
4 Boot
1 Flag leaf sheath extending
3 Boot just beginning to swell
5 Boot swollen 10
7 Flag leaf sheath opening
9 First awns visible
5 Head emergence
1 First spikelet of head just visible 10.1
3 One-fourth of head emerged 10.2
5 Half of head emerged 10.3
7 Three-fourths of head emerged 10.4
9 Head emergence complete 10.5
6 Flowering (not readily visible in barley)
1 Beginning of flowering 10.5.1
5 Half of florets have flowered 10.5.2
9 Flowering complete 10.5.3
7 Milk development in kernel
1 Kernel watery ripe 10.5.4
3 Early milk
5 Medium milk 11.1
7 Late milk
8 Dough development in kernel
3 Early dough
5 Soft dough 11.2
7 Hard dough, head losing green color
9 Approximate physiological maturity
9 Ripening
1 Kernel hard (difficult to divide with thumbnail) 11.3
2 Thumbnail cannot dent kernel, harvest ripe 11.4

Growth and development

Barley’s growth cycle has the following divisions: Germination, seedling establishment and leaf production, tillering, stem elongation, pollination and kernel development and maturity. 


Phyllis Bongard, Extension content development and communications specialist; Erv Oelke, emeritus Extension agronomist and Steve Simmons, emeritus agronomist, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Reviewed in 2021

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