Integrated Management of Mustard Species in Wheat Production Systems

Integrated Management of Mustard Species in Wheat Production Systems

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Drew Lyon, Professor, Extension Small Grains Weed Science, Washington State University, Ian Burke, Research Weed Scientist, Washington State University, Joan Campbell, Weed Science Research/Instruction Associate, University of Idaho
Blue mustard, flixweed, and tumble mustard can be a headache to control when it comes to winter wheat; this article shows you how it can be done.
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Mustard species commonly infest winter wheat fields and can cause significant yield losses if not controlled. This publication focuses on blue mustard (Chorispora tenella), flixweed
(Descurainia sophia), and tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), although many of the management recommendations apply to other mustard species as well. Prevention can play an important role in managing mustard species since infestations often begin along field edges. There are a number of herbicides that can provide effective control of mustard species, but these must be applied early before the plants get large or enter the reproductive stage when rapid stem elongation begins. Mustards should be controlled by late winter or early spring!


Weed species belonging to the mustard family (Brassicaceae, previously known as Cruciferae) are often collectively referred to as mustards. The mustard family contains nearly 400 genera and more than 4000 species. Members of the family include the economically important Brassica crops such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnip, and rapeseed (including canola).

Some of the more common mustard weed species found in the wheat production systems of the inland Pacific Northwest (PNW) are: black mustard (Brassica nigra), birdsrape mustard (Brassica rapa), shepherd’s-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), blue mustard, flixweed, bushy wallflower (Erysimum
repandum), wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis), tumble mustard, and field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense). This publication is focused on the three most widely distributed and troublesome species in wheat production systems of the PNW: blue mustard, flixweed, and tumble mustard, also known as Jim Hill mustard, named after the railroad builder James Hill who was thought to have introduced it (Gaines and Swan 1972).

Many of the weedy mustard species are winter annuals, that is, they germinate and emerge in the fall or winter and complete their life cycle with seed production in late spring or early summer. These weeds can cause severe yield loss in winter wheat because they begin to compete with wheat in the fall when it is small, and if left unchecked, they will compete with wheat for resources over much of the growing season (Table 1).

There are herbicides that effectively control the mustard species in wheat. Unfortunately, many growers fail to realize that they have a mustard problem until the plants begin to bolt (rapid elongation of the stem) or produce flowers in the spring. Herbicides applied after bolting has begun provide much less effective control. Many poor performance complaints can be attributed to later-than-recommended herbicide applications.

Table 1. Winter wheat yield loss from blue mustard in the Pacific Northwest.*

Blue mustard (plants/ft2)
Period of growth




—– yield loss (%) —-
Fall to spring




Fall to maturity




*Adapted from Swan, D.G. Competition of blue mustard with winter wheat. 1971. Weed Science 19:340-342.


Winter annual mustard plants usually begin growth as rosettes (leaves radiating outwards from a short stem at soil level). They remain as a rosette until the start of the reproductive stage in the spring when the stem begins to elongate or bolt. Dense clusters of four-petaled flowers are produced at the tips of branches. The four petals of the flowers form a cross (Figure 1). Mustard flowers are white, yellow, or purple-blue. Mustard seeds are formed inside a pod. These pods are either long and narrow (silique) or flattened and broader than long (silicle). The seeds are small, less than 1/8 inch in diameter and round to egg shaped, depending on the species.



Copyright Washington State University

Published Febuary, 2018

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