What Are Wild Oats?


Wild oats are a tall grass that reproduces annually. Wild oats are considered a noxious weed, or one which reproduces by seed. This grass grows up to 4 feet and has a hollow stem. The leaves at the base of the stem are slightly hairy and appear very similar to tame oats. Wild oats flower in early July, and continue for up to six weeks.


  • Wild oats reproduce by seed, continuing to germinate throughout the growing season. Seeds can remain dormant in the soil for seven to eight years, however most often germinate within two years. The optimal soil temperature for germination is between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Most wild oats begin to germinate and emerge in early to mid-spring. Typically, germination occurs at 0.8 to 2 inches of depth in soil, however this may vary depending on soil moisture. If the top layers of soil are extremely dry, germination has been know to occur at depths of 7.9 inches. Wild oat seeds will not germinate while exposed to light.


  • Mature seeds are usually dormant when they shatter, but seeds will ripen. Wild oat seeds respond to warm, dry temperatures and begin to germinate once moisture becomes available. If moisture is not available, the seeds return to their dormant state. Although it is not normally the method of reproduction, wild oats are capable of vegetative reproduction. This is true even for severely injured wild oat plants.


  • Wild oats cause yield losses for farmers as the weed competes with other crops for moisture, light and soil nutrients. As wild oats begin to germinate early in the growing season, most losses from this weed are realized early in the growing season. Additionally, wild oats can cause delays and additional losses at the grain elevator, may increase tillage, and may cause delays for farmers in seeding their crops. Wild oats can also cost farmers additional funds in herbicides to prevent this noxious weed. An additional concern is that its growing pattern is similar to other grains such as wheat, barley and domesticated oats.


  • Wild oats emerge from much deeper in the soil than wheat or barley, sometimes from as deep as 9 inches. Another distinguishing feature is that the seedling has a counter-clockwise leaf twist. Wheat and barley, on the other hand, twist clockwise. There are also no auricles present at the top of the sheath. A mature wild oat plant displays a cluster of flowers which spreads open and droops.

Early Detection

  • Wild oats are known to be particularly resistant to herbicides. Early detection is your best defense. Remain aware of and make note of suspicious-looking weed patches that show signs of resistance. Check for patches of resistance after the wild oats become visible above the main crop. Use competitive crops such as barley, canola, or wheat to minimize losses from wild oats, while using farming practices that give the crop a head-start on the weeds. Some of these practices include shallow seeding, proper seedbed preparation and herbicide burn-off.

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