Winter oats are planted in the fall and advance through the early stages of growth, including root and leaf development after planting. The plant then goes dormant during the winter, with growth beginning again the next spring. The crop is harvested in the late summer or early fall, commonly ahead of the harvest period for spring-planted crops. The crop planted this way offers advantages in reducing farmer's spring workload and may produce higher yields, as it takes better advantage of spring moisture. Disadvantages include the possibility of winter kill if the crop experiences cold weather without snow cover.
Planting for Grain
Winter oats intended for harvest as a grain are commonly planted at a rate of about 75 pounds per acre. Oats for grain are best planted with a grain drill. These devices allow the farmer to control the rate of planting. Increase the planting rate by about 20 percent if less precise methods of planting, such as broadcast seeding, are used.
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Planting for Forage
Winter oats might also be planted for use as livestock feed or grazing. In these situations the common planting rate is about 100 pounds per acre. More seeds increase the number of plants, thereby increasing the leaf and stem materials used as forage or feed. The intent of this crop is a high yield of plant matter rather than a high yield of seeds for grain.
During the fall development of the seedling it sends out rhizomes, forming additional plants from the original seed. This process is known as tillering. If the oat crop is planted too late for the crop to accomplish tillering, planting additional seeds can help keep the plant count up.
Forage plantings of winter oats are often mixed with legumes such as clover or grasses such as ryegrass. These plants increase the forage quality of the winter oats and may increase the yield. A mix of about 80 pounds of winter oat seed with up to 40 pounds of supplemental seed per acre is common.