Tillering time

Date posted: 19 September 2013

If you visit the barley crop at the botanic gardens, you will notice that the plants have moved from seedling stage (stage 10-19) to tillering stage (20-29).

Branching out

The tillering stage is an important growth phase for the plant. Essentially, it involves the plant branching out... Tillers (a specialist type of stem) emerge as side shoots from the original seedling. These tillers lengthen, grow and eventually set the barley head of grain.

The tillering stage is of great interest to both farmers and plant breeders as more tillers, means more grain. This means more food and beverages for humans and animals too!

More tillers means more barley

The number of tillers produced is dependent on the amount of water and nutrients the plant has access to plus how close the seeds are sown together. If it’s a tough year, the plant will produce fewer tillers as it knows it can’t support their growth. If it’s a good year, the plant will set more tillers as it is able to sustain them. Clever huh!

The barley variety grown in the Botanic Gardens, Navigator, is a high yielding variety which means it produces between fifteen to twenty tillers per grain planted. This is impressive for a barley plant.

Farmers do all they can to encourage their barley plants to produce more tillers and more grain. While they cannot control the amount of rain, they can influence the nutrients a plant has access to. Many farmers will apply a fertiliser high in nitrogen throughout the tillering phase as this encourages the plant to set more tillers. With enough rain, this ups the chance of a bumper yield.


Come into the Botanic Gardens and inspect the barley plants. Select 10 plants throughout the plot and count how many tillers have been set. Calculate this as an average and email it to the Botanic Gardens!

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