Still Time to Fertilize Summer Hay Meadows

Hay meadows respond well to fertilizer.  Photo courtesy of Troy Walz.
Hay meadows respond well to fertilizer. Photo courtesy of Troy Walz.

By Bruce Anderson, Nebraska Extension Forage Specialist

Do you need to grow more hay for next winter? One way to get that extra hay might be to fertilize your hay meadows this spring. There’s still time.

Hay meadows respond well to fertilizer. But, be sure to use the types and amounts of fertilizer that work best for the plants in your hay meadow. For example, do you have much clover or other legumes in your hay meadow? Then fertilize with phosphorus. A soil test can tell you how much phosphorus to use; usually 20 to 40 pounds per acre will stimulate legume growth nicely in most hay meadows. These legumes then will help supply some nitrogen to the grasses in your meadow, and the hay you cut from this meadow will yield more and contain more protein than straight grass hay.

Maybe your meadow already is green and growing well with cool-season grasses like bluegrass, brome, timothy, or wheatgrasses that head out in late May or June. Nitrogen can increase yield from this meadow, but it must be applied very soon or it will be too late for this year. The rate to apply declines as we go from east to west — use about 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre in eastern Nebraska but only 30 to 40 pounds in the Panhandle.

Warm-season grass meadows will soon start to green up, too. Like cool-season grasses, recommended nitrogen rates decline from 60 pounds in eastern Nebraska to 30 pounds out west. But be patient. Do not fertilize quite yet. Wait until mid- to late May before fertilizing your warm-season grass meadows.

Good meadow moisture this year plus the right fertilizer can increase hay yields from most meadows. With low hay carryover, this may be a good year for you to increase your meadow yields.

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