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Cornell University

Cover Crop Guide for NY Growers

Dr. Thomas Björkman, Horticulture Section, Cornell AgriTech

Wheat, (Includes Spelt, Triticale)

Wheat and its close relatives are common cover crops in the Northeast. They are winter-hardy and are often found in rotation schedules with vegetable crops to prevent winter soil erosion. These small grains are good for reducing root rot in vegetables. In the spring, wheat, spelt and triticale grow more slowly than rye and are therefore easier to incorporate. Triticale’s primary advantage over wheat and triticale is that it can be sown earlier to produce more fall growth. Spelt’s advantages are that it grows better in low nitrogen soil, is more competitive with weeds in the spring, and heads a week later. In the spring, the decision to take the crop to harvest is an option.

Land Preparation

Prepare a firm, weed-free seedbed. Additional fertilizer is not needed.

Seeding Rate

If you are accustomed to raising small grains, use half the amount the conditions would usually call for. Wheat 70 lb/ac. Spelt 80 lb/ac. Triticale 80 lb/ac. For weed suppression, increase rate by 30%. If broadcasting, increase rate by 30%. If seeding late, increase by 50 to 100%.

Seed Cost

2007 price: $0.10/lb

Seeding Dates

Wheat: Hessian fly-free date (mid-September) to October 1. Spelt: Hessian fly-free date (mid-September) to October 10. Triticale: August 25-September 25. Triticale can be sown before the Hessian fly-free date. Spelt can be sown into October and in cool soil.

Time Until Control

When growth resumes (early May).

Seed Suppliers

Local farm seed dealer. Use quality seed with high germination and no weed seeds. Triticale: Rupp, Lakeview Organic Grain.

Management Tricks

Drill if possible. If broadcasting increase the rate by 30%. For weed suppression, increase the rate 30%. Triticale can be seeded before the Hessian fly-free date.

Unavoidable Problems

Excess growth in warm, damp spring.

Classic Uses

Winter cover for spring plow down. Green manure and weed control.


Little required, check for gaps in the cover crop and fill in.


For best growth of the subsequent crop, control when the plants are beginning to regrow, at 6 to 8 inches. Glyphosate is effective once day temperatures exceed 50° F, and tillage works before the crown enlarges. For later control, incorporate after boot stage but before flowering (the window is typically one week occurring between May 20 and June 7).


When drilling, spelt can plug narrow, bent, or rough drop tubes. Drill triticale 1 – 1 1/4 inches deep to avoid frost heaving. If there is a lot of fall growth (10 inches or more), matting is reduced by mowing or grazing to 6 inches. Winter wheat can be sown in April, for use as a green manure, to be turned under. Nitrogen tie-up can occur if vegetable crops are planted too soon after incorporation. The best nitrogen value is obtained if the plants are killed before the stems begin to elongate. Early control also makes a better seedbed because the crowns are smaller. Wait 2-3 weeks between incorporation and planting vegetables. If plans change and the crop is to be harvested, apply a springtime nitrogen topdressing at the G3-5 tillering phase12. Also consider overseeding with clover.

All uses for Wheat, (Includes Spelt, Triticale)
Management Goal Planting Time
Stabilize Soil Aggregates Early Autumn
Winter Erosion Protection Early Autumn
Winter Manure Application Early Autumn
Increase Organic Matter Early Autumn
Nitrogen Scavenging Early Autumn
Reduce Root Rot Early Autumn
Reduce Weeds Early Autumn
Nitrogen Scavenging Spring
Reduce Weeds Spring
Stabilize Soil Aggregates Spring