• Ruth Correll: Fall fertilization for pastures and hayfields

    By Ruth Correll -

    One of the key components of a successful forage production program is a solid fertilization plan. Typically, fertilization is considered a springtime procedure. However, there are many reasons to consider making fertilizer applications in the fall.

    Recommendations for fall fertilization include stockpiling tall fescue by applying fall nitrogen to tall fescue to increase the growth for grazing during the winter and reducing hay feeding by one or two months. For stockpiling tall fescue, fertilize after the fall rains begin, when the fescue has begun to regrow.  It will be best to have the pasture grazed or clipped to remove all summer growth from the field. Applying about 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre is best for stockpiling tall fescue.

    Current soil-test results are essential for knowing how much phosphate and potash to apply. Fall is a good time to sample soil to determine the fertility status of pastures. Soil-test results will show what nutrients are needed and how much to apply.  Fall is the best time to apply lime if needed.  Fall application of lime gives the lime the opportunity to do its job in time. 

    Fertilizer is usually less expensive during fall.  Often the price for fertilizer is cheaper during this time of the year compared to spring. Since it is not the busy season, it may be easier to get the fertilizer applied to the fields.

    Since all the potash and phosphate required for a year can be applied at one time, applying these two, plus the nitrogen for stockpiling, can mean that only one fertilizer application is needed each year if clovers are present for the spring boost of nitrogen.  

    Fall fertilization also has the benefit of improving the cold tolerance of bermudagrass. Since Tennessee is on the northern border of the adaptation of bermudagrass, there is the possibility for some winter kill. A fall application of potash and phosphate will help improve the cold tolerance of bermudagrass.

    Timing of fall nitrogen application is important as nitrogen is volatile. Temperatures 75 degrees or higher, with high soil pH and moisture, can result in the loss of nitrogen when using urea. It is best applied when rain is expected with two to three days or a type of urea with a urease inhibitor should be used. 

    Fall fertilization is a management tool that can be used on most cattle farms in Tennessee. Because phosphate and potash are stable in the soil, a once-a-year application is adequate. Fall application of these nutrients fits nicely with a stockpiling program, because nitrogen can be added with the potash and phosphate to make a balance fertilizer application.

    For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson. Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or [email protected]

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