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Fall Fertilization of Pastures and Hayfields

Develop a Fall Fertilization Plan for Pastures and Hayfields

A solid fertilization plan is one of the keys to a successful forage production program. To produce forage for grazing or hay, you must provide nutrients needed by the plants in adequate quantities. Usually, fertilization is considered a springtime procedure.

However, there are many reasons to apply fertilizer in the fall.

  1. Stockpile tall fescue. Applying fall nitrogen to tall fescue can increase growth for winter grazing, which can reduce hay feeding by one or two months.
  2. Cheaper prices during fall. Fertilizer is often cheaper in the fall compared to spring. Also, finding time to get the work done may be easier in the fall.
  3. Only one application is needed if clovers are used. If clovers are used in a tall fescue pasture, no nitrogen is needed during the spring. Since all the potash and phosphate required for a year can be applied at one time, applying all of these, plus the nitrogen for stockpiling, can mean that only one fertilizer application is needed each year.
  4. Improve cold tolerance of Bermuda grass. Since Tennessee is on the northern border for Bermuda grass, the potential for winter kill exists across most of the state. A fall application of potash and phosphate will also help improve cold tolerance. Pay attention to the following points when fertilizing inter the summer heat and drought. Pastures should be grazed or clipped to remove all summer growth.

How much to fertilize – For stockpiling tall fescue, use approximately 60 lbs. of nitrogen per acre. There is no way to know how much phosphate and potash to apply without a soil test. Fall is also a good time to take soil samples to determine the fertility of the pastures. Soil test results tell what nutrients are needed and how much to apply. No soil test means guessing at the amount of fertilizer needed. You may be spending more money than needed or not putting on enough of some nutrients. Take a soil test to be sure.

What to fertilize with – Determining which form of nitrogen to use is the biggest consideration. The two main types of nitrogen fertilizer used in Tennessee are urea and ammonium nitrate. Urea is 46 percent nitrogen, while ammonium nitrate is 34 percent nitrogen. Ammonium nitrate is best for fall fertilization because there is a greater potential for nitrogen loss with urea during the fall. Nitrogen from urea can be lost to the atmosphere as ammonia when conditions are hot with moderate moisture. Temperatures 75 F or above with high soil pH and moisture can result in the loss of 20 – 30 percent of the nitrogen from urea applied to the soil surface and not incorporated by rainfall, since all of the nitrogen is in the ammonia form. If urea is used for fall fertilization, it is best to apply it when rain is expected within 2 – 3 days or else use a urease inhibitor to delay conversion of the urea to the ammonium form. Fall fertilization is a management tool that can be used on most cattle farms in Tennessee. Phosphate and potash are stable in the soil so a once-a-year application is adequate. Fall application of these nutrients fits nicely with a stockpiling program, since nitrogen can be added with the potash and phosphate to make a balanced fertilizer application. Consider putting on fertilizer this fall and then using clovers next spring to provide the nitrogen you need for a solid forage production program.

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UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. It is a statewide educational organization, funded by federal, state and local governments, that brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, and resource development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work. Sevier News Messenger distributes UT Extension news as a courtesy. UT Extension – Sevier County can be found at