The latest cold snap may have you wonder whether the earlier planted wheat and barley have a snowball’s chance in hell to produce a healthy seedling and stand? Wheat, barley and oats do not germinate until the soil temperatures reach 40 F. The germination process starts with the uptake of water, breaking the dormancy and starting the development of the sprout. Once the dormancy is broken the energy stored in the seed is used for the growth and development as well as respiration (basically maintenance). If the temperatures are low or even freezing the growth and development of young seedling slows down or even stops. However, respiration continues albeit at a lower rate and continues to deplete the energy stored in the seed. This will eventually decrease the vigor of the seed and may prevent the sprouted seed to produce a healthy seedling.
With the freezing temperatures the first concerns is whether this can kill the sprouted seed. Reports from the literature indicate that sprouted wheat and young seedling will likely survive temperatures in the low twenties. A quick first check of the color of radicle (first root) and coleoptile (first leaf) is the first step: a white and firm radicle and coleoptile will indicate that the sprout is not damaged by frost after the seed has been allowed to thaw out. . A second test to determine viability of seed is to dig up seed and bring it home, place it between moist paper towels, and keep it at room temperature. If the seed is viable the sprouts should start to grow within 24 hours.