BACKGROUND: Pre-emergent herbicides play an important role in conservation agriculture, however, crop residues on the soil surface in these systems can intercept a considerable amount of herbicide during application. Cutting crops relatively high at harvest has some advantages, such as allowing faster harvest, and this also means that there is less horizontal residue on the soil surface. This field study tested the impact of standing wheat residue height and amount of horizontal residue on the interception, leaching and weed-control efficacy of the pre-emergent herbicide pyroxasulfone in the 2015 and 2016 growing seasons. RESULTS: Spray coverage of pyroxasulfone declined from 14.6% to 7.5% with increasing amounts (0 to 4 t ha−1) of horizontal wheat residue. Horizontal wheat residue at 1 t ha−1 had 10.3% spray coverage (more herbicide interception) compared with 15.4% for the equivalent amount of standing residue. Greater amounts of horizontal residue also significantly reduced the efficacy of pyroxasulfone in controlling ryegrass in the field and decreased pyroxasulfone concentrations in the soil. Rainfall after herbicide application increased herbicide efficacy for all residue amounts. Generally, cutting standing residue higher resulted a relatively small decrease in spray coverage at the soil surface and weed control efficacy, and this was significant only between nil stubble and 0.3 m cut height. CONCLUSION: Cutting residue relatively high, leaving less on the surface, improves spray coverage and herbicide efficacy compared with having more horizontal residue. This research may assist farmers and advisors to maximize the efficacy of pre-emergent herbicide in no-tillage systems.