“For late-planted cotton, especially dryland, you may want to hedge more toward first square than first bloom. Unfortunately, many preplant nitrogen applications were skipped and side-dress is the first nitrogen fertilizer the cotton plant is receiving. Again, be cautious about applying too much nitrogen to late-planted cotton too early.”

While it is true that most new cotton varieties fruit up earlier, and it makes sense they would need nitrogen earlier, there is also the strong possibility that you could interfere with the plant wanting to shift from vegetative mode to reproductive mode, says Harris.

That is, making it want to keep growing stalk instead of shifting to putting on bolls. On late-planted cotton, growers have less time to make the crop and usually cannot afford this delay.

On uneven stands, producers should fertilize to the majority and hopefully the oldest, he says.

“I’ve seen a lot of fields, again dryland, where some cotton had enough moisture to come up early, but then another ‘flush’ came up much later. It is not uncommon to have cotton plants that are near first square and others that have just emerged in the same field.

“The rule of thumb should be to time your side-dress nitrogen application according to which stage you have the most of in the field.

“This recommendation is easy to follow when you have mostly older cotton, but is much trickier when you have ‘half and half,’ especially if the tall cotton and short cotton are randomly mixed together and not in large patches.

“The only danger of side-dressing really young cotton is if you use liquid nitrogen and dribble a full rate directly on top or into the terminal. There is also a possibility of you side-dressing nitrogen close to very young cotton and if it turns dry, you could get some salt injury.”

Foliar nitrogen and potassium can help “get you through,” but they won’t do it all, says Harris. Foliar feeding nitrogen and potassium always should be seen as a way to supplement a good soil-applied fertilizer program.

“In times of limited soil moisture, it can be a good way to get some nutrients into the plant when the plant may be struggling to take up nutrients through the roots. We have seen this, especially with potassium, on Georgia cotton before, where soil potassium levels are adequate, but due to dry soil conditions, the plant goes almost deficient during droughts.”