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Control of weeds in maize and wheat – Part 3: Avena fatua (Common wild oats)


Wild oats lemma with bent and twisted awn with seed (inset).
Avena seedling.
Comparison between wild oats (right) and wheat (left).
Mature wild oats plant with ligule visible on leaf sheath (inset).

Scientific name: Avena fatua
Afrikaans name: Wildehawer
English name: Wild oats

Short description

Wild oats is an annual (annual = goes through whole life cycle within a year) grass, which can grow between 60 - 90 cm tall.  The stems are solitary or often tufted. The culms are erect and hairless and has two to five nodes. 

The leaf sheaths are also hairless and can grow as long as 20 cm. The leaves, which are also hairless, are linear and have sharp apices and can grow up to 24 cm long and 8 mm wide. The ligule is membranous and can be up to 6 mm long. 

The inflorescence of wild oats is open, loose panicles that can grow up to 40 cm long. The spikelets are oblong, narrow, gaping and contain two to three florets. Each lemma has a bent and twisted awn, with a darkly coloured underside. 

The seeds look like typical oat seeds and are straw-coloured, hairy and rounded on the one side and clefted on the other side. The seed can be 9 mm long and 2 mm wide.


Wild oats is a severe competitor and commonly occur in the Southern Cape Province and the grain producing areas of the Free State, especially in monoculture wheat production. The seed of wild oats is usually distributed through contaminated wheat seed and contaminated machinery (like combines).


Post-emergence herbicides are applied after the weed and/or crop has emerged from the soil. Several herbicides are registered for the control of wild oats in wheat (Table 1 and Table 2). 

Always strictly follow the specific instructions and dosage recommendations on the product’s label.

TABLE 1: Herbicides registered on maize for the control of wild oats.

Active ingredient


Time of application


450 g/litre

Post-emergence when seedlings are between three and six leaf stage


250/25/250 g/litre

Apply only on glyphosate resistant maize cultivars, early post-emergence of the weed

TABLE 2: Herbicides registered on wheat for the control of wild oats.

Active ingredient


Time of application


450 g/litre

Post-emergence when seedlings are between three and six leaf stage


240 g/litre

Post-emergence when seedlings are between three and six leaf stage. Dosage rate will depend on weed species and application method


378 g/litre

ONLY use in irrigated wheat. Apply before the crop reaches the five leaf stage


120 g/litre

Apply when weeds are in the three to five leaf stage. Dosage depends on weed species, growth stage and method of application


700 g/kg

Wheat in leaf stage three to five

iodosulfuron-methyl-sodium/ mefenpyrdiethyl

50/150 g/kg

Post-emergence when seedlings are between two and three leaf stage

iodosulforon-methyl-sodium/ metsulfuron-methyl/mefenpyr-diethyl

30/30/90 g/kg

Post-emergence application up until the fourth leaf stage (only in winter rainfall region)


45 g/litre

Dosage depends on the grass species


45 g/litre

Post-emergence, two to three leaf stage of wheat until the second node stage, but when wild oats are still in the seedling stage


750 g/kg

Post-emergence, one to four leaf stage of the weed. Dosage rate will depend on weed species


100 g/litre

Post-emergence, two to four leave stage of the weed (winter rainfall region)
Post-emergence, two to four leave stage of weed (Summer rainfall region or irrigation wheat)


480 g/litre

Pre-emergence, apply to well-prepared seedbed prior to planting and incorporate with planter within four hours


750 g/kg

Apply at planting


In the winter rainfall area cultivation (ploughing) can help to lessen the problem, but this can only be done if no winter wheat was planted. Because wild oats seed have the ability to stay dormant in the soil for up to nine years, crop rotation is not very effective for the control of this weed. Also, it is very difficult to control this weed chemically in winter wheat under dryland conditions and selective post-emergence herbicides have to be used.

Herbicide resistance in this weed has been documented and poor control has been reported from all over South Africa. Producers and chemical advisors must always take herbicide resistance into account when making herbicide recommendations. Never use products to which resistance has been noted on specific fields/farms. Always contact a reliable chemical advisor before buying and/or using any chemicals and strictly follow the label instructions.

Contact the writers at elbe.hugo@syngenta.com (Elbe Hugo) and, deweth@arc.agric.za (Hestia Nienaber).