It’s time to fertilize fescue pastures

While the time to fertilize warm season grasses may be past, Arkansas ranchers and pasture managers now find themselves in the sweet spot for fertilizing fescue. John Jennings, forage specialist for the University of Arkansas said that with the exceptional amount of rain that Arkansas and the surrounding region has received recently, he and many extension agents have received calls and emails regarding the practice of fertilizing fields for one last cutting.

“For warm season forages such as bermudagrass and bahiagrass, we are at the end of the season,” Jennings said. “However, the timing for fertilizing fescue is right now.” The University of Arkansas Fertilizer Recommendations Manual states that warm season forages should not be fertilized after September 1.

“Realistically, on drought stressed forages, the cutoff date should be earlier than that,” Jennings said. “The reasoning is that even after rain, drought stressed forages may take a week to even show green-up and another week to accumulate any leaf area, leaving only about a week to produce any significant amount of forage before short days and cooler nights in late September start shutting down warm season grass growth.” When night temperatures drop into the 50s, growth stalls for warm season grasses, he said, “and it could take a few days to restart.”

When night temperatures drop into the 40s, growth stops.

“By that time of year, there are not enough warm hours in a day to restart the engine,” Jennings said.

Arkansas research on stockpiling bermudagrass shows that in the northern portion of the state, delaying nitrogen application from August 1 to September 1 reduced forage dry matter yield by 60 to 80 percent. The same numbers apply for hay production. Pasture managers working with fescue fields are currently in a good position to boost their output through timely fertilization.

“Our research on fertilizer timing for fall fescue growth, either for fall pasture or
stockpiled winter pasture, showed that early September is the optimum time to apply nitrogen fertilizer,” Jennings said. “Waiting until early to mid-October produced no more dry matter yield than the unfertilized control.”

Urea is a viable fertilizer source if ammonium nitrate is not available, he said. Several Arkansas forage research trials show yield differences between those nitrogen sources on warm season grasses range only from 0 to 15 percent.

“So, if producers need fall forage, fescue fertilization is a good option,” Jennings said. “It’s too late to expect a good response from fertilizing warm season forages.”

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