A number of commercial varieties and advanced breeding lines of wheat and of barley were each sown successively in the field from early in September until late in February in 3 or 2 years. Shoot apex development was monitored throughout the growing season and the dates at which the double ridge stage and the terminal spikelet stage were attained are reported. There was considerable variation in the date at which these stages occurred, associated both with variety and date of sowing. When sown early, spring wheat varieties and the winter wheat, Fenman, developed more rapidly than the other winter wheats, but the difference disappeared in sowings made in the middle of October or later. Spring barley developed more quickly than winter barley and the difference persisted until sowings made in mid-November.
Length of the longest leaf sheath, number of emerged leaves on the main shoot and the time when stem elongation began (‘ear at 1 cm’), plant characters used to assess the stage for various agronomic treatments, were measured in parallel with apex development. The relationships between number of emerged leaves and the length of the longest leaf sheath and stage of development were found to vary with sowing date. The stage ‘ear at 1 cm’ provided a good guide to shoot apex development. Stem length and number of elongated internodes varied with date of sowing. Some of the variation in number of emerged leaves at a given stage and in the final number of elongated internodes was found to be correlated with total number of leaves on the main shoot. The form of analysis used indicated that sowing date may have important effects, via its effect on the number of leaves on the main shoot, on the duration of ear growth in wheat and barley and on the duration of ear formation in barley.