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Cotton: White cotton, Red Foliage Ornamental,
Flower: Pretty pink flowers in 45-60 days
Uses: Brings color and contrast to garden
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Cotton: White cotton, Black leaved Plant
Flower: 45-60 days, pink flowers turn dark red
Uses: Brings color and contrast to garden
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PLANTO 4-4-4 ORGANIC FERTILIZER
Enriched with humates, amino acids & seaweed. Ideal for cotton plants, vegetables, flowers, lawn, and house plants. Size: 1/2 lb (226 g) of soluble fertilizer makes 24 gallons of organic liquid fertilizer.
- Quick greening, flowering, and fruiting
- Fast acting, loaded with nutrients
- Easy to use, no mess
- Will not burn plants unlike other fertilizers
- Helps build soil beneficials
- No chemicals, safe for the environment
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- Growing Ornamental Cotton
- Cotton Seed Placement – How To Plant A Cotton Seed
- Cotton Seed Planting
- Cotton Seed Placement
- How to Plant a Cotton Seed
- How A Cotton Plant Grows
- How a Cotton Plant Grows
- Seed Germination and Seedling Emergence
- Getting A Stand Is Important
- Building the Framework-Roots, Stem, and Leaves
- Vegetative and Fruiting Branches
- The Squares
- The Blooms
- The Miracle of Fiber Development
- Characteristics of Cotton and What it Needs
- How to Grow Cotton in Colder Areas
- Harvesting Your Cotton in Colder Climates
- Cotton is Illegal to Grow in Some US States
- Additional questions
- Related posts:
Growing Ornamental Cotton
“Cotton is a very warm climate crop”, he stressed; “it does not like temperatures below 60°, so the earliest I’d put it in the ground up there would be around June 1st. You could start it indoors a few weeks ahead of time and transplant it out, but use big containers and get it out fast; the roots grow very quickly and the plants won’t do well if they get pot bound. Cotton is self-pollinating, so you don’t need a lot of plants,” he added, “and if it does mature, you can collect the seed that’ll be mixed in with the cotton lint for subsequent seasons. It needs very good drainage, and likes a lot of food and water after flowering. It’s a tropical perennial, and Southern farmers actually have to kill the plants before harvest,” he continued, “but up North it’ll die naturally over winter.”
And he doesn’t see a problem growing it in Delaware. “That’s outside the boll weevil eradication zone, which runs from Virginia down to Texas, and out to Tennessee and Missouri, so I don’t imagine anyone will mind. Just don’t take any plant material into a cotton growing state—especially Texas or Arkansas, where the weevil is still active.”
In those areas, “some states will issue you a permit if you put up pheromone traps and destroy the crop if you capture a weevil, but some won’t. Although the likelihood of a garden crop becoming a serious threat is small, there is the fear that a home owner could accidentally create a little safe haven breeding ground that might lead to an outbreak. Commercial cotton growers MUST buy into the program; they pay $4 per acre of cotton, and folks who work for the eradication service set up and monitor the traps.”
So if you live in a non-cotton state, you’re free to enjoy the flowers and pods. And if you have at least 120 growing days and get warm-weather lucky, maybe even see those pods split open and reveal the cotton lint—and next year’s seeds—inside. If you’re down South, contact your local Extension office and see if there’s the possibility of a permit.
For more info, visit these web sites:
Boll Weevil Eradication program info; lists all states involved:
Our good buddy Dr. Jim Duke’s fascinating treatise on cotton as a medicinal plant:
Cotton Seed Placement – How To Plant A Cotton Seed
Cotton plants have flowers that resemble hibiscus and seed pods that you can use in dried arrangements. Your neighbors will ask about this attractive and unique garden plant, and they won’t believe it when you tell them what you’re growing. Find out how to sow cotton seeds in this article.
Cotton Seed Planting
Before you begin, you should know that it is illegal to grow cotton in your garden if you live in a state where it’s grown commercially. That’s because of the boll weevil eradication programs, which require the growers to use traps that the programs monitor. The eradication zone runs from Virginia to Texas and as far west as Missouri. Call your Cooperative Extension Service if you aren’t sure whether you are in the zone.
Cotton Seed Placement
Plant cotton seeds in a location with loose, rich soil where the plants will receive at least four or five hours of direct sunlight every day. You can grow it in a container, but the container must be at least 36 inches deep. It helps to work an inch or so of compost into the soil before planting. Putting them in the ground too soon slows germination. Wait until temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees F. (15 C.).
It takes 65 to 75 days of temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit for cotton to go from seed to flower. The plants need an additional 50 days after the flowers bloom for the seed pods to mature. Gardeners sowing cotton seeds in cool climates may find that they can bring the plants to flower, but don’t have enough time remaining to watch the seed pods mature.
How to Plant a Cotton Seed
Sow the seeds when the soil temperature is close to 60 degrees F. (15 C.) first thing in the morning for several consecutive days. If the soil is too cool, the seeds will rot. Plant the seeds in groups of 3, spacing them 4 inches apart.
Cover them with about an inch of soil. Water the soil so that the moisture penetrates to a depth of at least six inches. You shouldn’t have to water again until seedlings emerge.
Gardeners new to planting cotton may wonder which way to plant cotton seeds; in other words, which way is up or down. The root will emerge from the tip of the seed, but you don’t have to concern yourself with placing the seed in the soil just so. No matter how you plant it, the seed will sort itself out.
After cotton has been harvested, producers who use conventional tillage practices cut down and chop the cotton stalks. The next step is to turn the remaining residue underneath the soil surface. Producers who practice a style of farming called conservation tillage often choose to leave their stalks standing and leave the plant residue on the surface of the soil.
In the spring, farmers prepare for planting in several ways. Producers who plant using no-till or conservation tillage methods, use special equipment designed to plant the seed through the litter that covers the soil surface. Producers who employ conventional tillage practices, plow or “list” the land into rows forming firm seed-beds for planting. Producers in south Texas plant cotton as early as February. In Missouri and other northern parts of the Cotton Belt, they plant as late as June.
Seeding is done with mechanical planters which cover as many as 10 to 24 rows at a time. The planter opens a small trench or furrow in each row, drops in the right amount of seed, covers them and packs the earth on top of them. The seed is planted at uniform intervals in either small clumps (“hill-dropped”) or singularly (“drilled”). Machines called cultivators are used to uproot weeds and grass, which compete with thecotton plant for soil nutrients, sunlight and water.
About two months after planting, flower buds called squares appear on the cotton plants. In another three weeks, the blossoms open. Their petals change from creamywhite to yellow, then pink and finally, dark red. After three days, they wither and fall, leaving green pods which are called cotton bolls.
Inside the boll, which is shaped like a tiny football, moist fibers grow and push out from the newly formed seeds. As the boll ripens, it turns brown. The fibers continue to expand under the warmsun. Finally, they split the boll apart and the fluffy cotton bursts forth. It looks like white cotton candy.
Since hand labor is no longer used in the U.S. to harvest cotton, the crop is harvested by machines, either a picker or a stripper. Cotton picking machines have spindles that pick (twist) the seed cotton from the burrs that are attached to plants’ stems. Doffers then remove the seed cotton from the spindles and knock the seed cotton into the conveying system.
Conventional cotton stripping machines use rollers equipped withalternating bats and brushes to knock the open bolls from the plants into a conveyor.
A second kind of stripper harvester uses a broadcast attachment that looks similar to a grain header on a combine. All harvesting systems use air to convey and elevate the seed cotton into a storage bin referred to as a basket. Once the basket is full, the stored seed cotton is dumped into a boll buggy, trailer or module builder.
How A Cotton Plant Grows
How a Cotton Plant Grows
Contained within the seedcoat of a viable cottonseed is a new plant waiting for the correct set of environmental conditions to occur to start it germination process. Man has taken the cotton plant for granted, enjoying its benefits without fully understanding its growth. The goal of this factsheet is to help you better understand how a cotton plant grows, so better management practices can be used to produce maximum yields.
Seed Germination and Seedling Emergence
Seed germination and seedling emergence are the foundation of your total crop. Understanding these activities will help you to lay the groundwork for a vigorous crop.
If you closely examine the inside of the cottonseed, you will find all of the essential parts that form the mature plant. There are two well developed cotyledons, that will form the seed leaves which manufacture food for the young seedling. Located between the cotyledons is a structure referred to as the epicotyl which is the shoot that will form the main stem. The next identifiable part is the hypocotyl, this is the first plant part seen above ground in the emergence process. The tip of the small seedling is referred to as the radicle; it is the first structure to emerge from the seedcoat and will ultimately form the root structure of the cotton plant.
These tiny parts make up the embryo or kernel. It lies quietly within the protective confines of the seedcoat. Once the seed is placed in the ground the miracle of seed germination begins. Moisture from the surrounding soil seeps through the seedcoat at the broad end of the seed, this is an area of specialized cells referred to as chalaza. The absorbed water follows the tissue around the embryo to the radicle cap at the narrow end of the seed. As it moves, the water softens and penetrates the tissues, and triggers a wide range of chemical reactions. By now,moisture is penetrating all parts of the seedcoat, and the swollen embryo appears ready to burst. The radical forces it way through the tiny opening at the pointed end (micropyle) of the seedcoat and pushes downward into the soil.
At the same time, the hypocotyl has begun to stretch and forms an arch or crook as it makes it way to and through the soil surface. If the seed has been placed in a firm seedbed the protective seedcoat will remain underground as the expanding cells straighten the hook and pulls the cotyledons and the epicotyl (shoot) free eventually lifting them above the soil surface. Exposed to light, the newly unfurled seed leaves turn green and begin to manufacture food–a short-term function that they will perform until the true leaves take over. Soon the bud above the cotyledons enlarges and unfolds to form the stem. The true leaves and branches will develop there.
Under favorable conditions, seedlings emerge can occur in 4 to 5 days after planting. Emergence will take longer if seed are planted in cool soils. Temperatures below 60°F are detrimental to germination, emergence, and seedling growth. During the first 60 to 100 hours of germination, the radicle tip is easily damaged by chilling, lack of oxygen in the soil, or too much moisture. If the tip is killed, a shallow system of secondary roots develops that makes the plant more subject to moisture stress later in the season.
As a rule of thumb planting should be delayed until the soil temperature at the eight inch depth averages a minimum of 60°F for 10 days (temperature should be taken at 8 a.m.). Allowing soil temperatures to increase before planting will cut the time needed for germination and seedling emergence and helps to ensure healthy, uniform stands.
It also is important to use high-quality seed and plant in a firm, well prepared seedbed with adequate moisture. Seed should be planted at a depth of 1 to 2 1/2 inches, depending on soil type and availability of moisture. Planting too deep can significantly reduce plant population and seedling health. It is better to delay planting than to plant seed too deep.
Getting A Stand Is Important
Insects and weeds may be the visible enemies of a good cotton crop, but what you do at planting time is even more important. The potential of a cotton crop is determined in the first 30 to 40 days after you put seed into the ground. Everything that occurs after you get a stand can only maintain or decrease yields. A “good stand” refers to the number of healthy, vigorous seedlings that are evenly distributed in the field. This may be 2 to 4 plants per foot of row depending on soil type, row width, planting date, and moisture during the growing season.
Getting a stand requires proper seedbed preparation, favorable soil temperature, proper planting depth, adequate soil moisture, high quality seed, elimination of soil compaction, avoiding chemical injury and protecting the plants from high winds, blowing sand, insects and diseases.
Actually, seed quality should be listed first. Poor planting seed is the primary cause of stand failure. Emerging seedlings are poorly equipped to withstand the challenges of diseases, insects, wind, and weather, including moisture stress and heat stress.
For that reason, you should use only seed that have a cool-warm vigor index of 155 or higher. The cool-warm vigor index is obtained by combining the warm germination test percentage with the cool germination test percentage.
Cotton should be planted in well prepared seedbeds that are firm, warm, and moist. Planting should be based on soil temperature and the weather outlook for a month after planting. It is generally recommend that you plant only after soil temperatures at the eight inch depth averages a minimum of 60°F for 10 days (temperature should be taken at 8 a.m..). Weather outlook is important because rain and cool temperatures following planting can slow germination and reduce stands.
The same factors that delay germination and seedling growth encourage seedling disease and insect problems. The first challenge encountered by the developing cotton plant is seedling disease complex made up of one or more soil borne fungi. You may know these seedling diseases by more familiar names: Pythium, Rhizoctonia, and Thielaviopsis. Treating planting seed with fungicides often helps ward off seedling diseases.
Don’t plant seed too deep in soils that are overly wet, cold, compacted, or high in chemical concentrations. It’s important to apply herbicides as indicated on the label to avoid root pruning or seedling injury. Fertilizer needs to be applied in a manner that reduces the potential for seed and plant injury.
Early season insects such as thrips, cutworms, leafminers, and aphids are a concern. Seed treatments, in-furrow applications of fungicides and systemic insecticides (if needed), and foliar insecticides applied when threshold levels are reached can more than pay for themselves in helping get your crop off to a quick, health start.
|Here’s where a good stand starts–with high-quality seed. Micro-organisms in the soil and on and in the seed can cause seed rot or decay. Note visible mold growth on rotted seed in center.||Thrips distort and crinkle seed leaves (left leaf), slowing down early growth of the plant. This complicates postemergence weed control and may delay fruiting and crop maturity. Leafminer (right leaf) seldom does economic damage. Beneficial ladybug (center) feeds on eggs and small larvae of damaging insects.|
|Rain shortly after seedling emergence and cool temperatures often stimulate fungi that cause postemergence, damping-off. Seedlings are stunted, then they wilt and often die, leading to skimpy stands.||Early plant growth is slowed by excessive concentrations of preplant incorporated herbicides. The most obvious symptom is the thick pruned lateral roots.|
Building the Framework-Roots, Stem, and Leaves
The cotton plant is constantly manufacturing new, specialized cells to form the organs that carry out growth and reproduction. The four organs are the roots, stem, leaves, and fruits (squares, flowers, and bolls).
The roots are both the anchor and the life-support artery of the plant. They form the foundation that holds the plant firmly in place, and they channel moisture and dissolved nutrients from below the ground to the manufacturing system above. The cotton plant has a primary (or main) taproot with many branches (lateral roots) and along the lateral roots are root hairs. Root hairs are responsible for most of the moisture and nutrient uptake of the plant.
After seed germination the taproot grows downward for several days without branching. It may reach a depth of 9 inches by the time the cotyledons (seed leaves) have emerged from the soil. Branching of the taproot begins about the time that the cotyledons are lifted above the soil surface and the seed leaves begin to unfurl.
Soil type and texture, moisture, and aeration determine how deep taproots penetrate. A few will grow as deep as eight feet. Normally, however, about half of the total root length is confined to the top two feet of soil.
The mass of roots, large and small, that branch from the taproot make up the main absorption and anchoring structure of the cotton plant. Their distribution depends on a combination of weather, plant, and soil factors. Roots grow most rapidly when there is enough, but not too much, moisture; when there are no compacted soil layers; and when other environmental conditions are ideal for plant growth.
Tillage operations, proper use of fertilizers, and adequate soil moisture can improve conditions for healthy root development.
The basic root system normally is in place by the time the plant begins blooming, or by about 8 to 10 weeks after planting.
If the roots are the foundation of the plant, the stem is the framework that supports the vegetative and reproductive organs. It also serves as the distribution system–carrying moisture and minerals from the roots to the leaves, and food to the various parts of the plant.
A fully developed cotton plant has a prominent, erect main stem consisting of a series of nodes (branching points) and internodes (stem area between nodes). The cotyledons are the lowest two leaves on the stem and the only leaves directly across the stem from each other. As the plant grows, new nodes and internodes form. The first leaf to develop above the cotyledons is referred to as the first true leaf.
The time between node development is impacted by temperature and generally ranges between 3 to 5 days. A single leaf forms at each node in a spiral arrangement. In upland cotton grown in Texas, each new leaf commonly develops three-eighths of a turn above the preceding leaf. The course of the spiral may be clockwise or counterclockwise.
At the center of this growth activity is the terminal bud. It is at the fork of the main stem and the petiole that supports the blade of the top unfolded true leaf.
The terminal bud controls the upward pattern of stem, leaf, and branch development. If it is damaged–by hail, insects, or mechanical operations–the entire growth sequence of the plant is upset. The branch below the terminal bud will take over as the main stem, but it generally is weaker. The branching arrangement of the plant will be irregular, and growth will be delayed.
The leaves are the factory. Through the plant process of photosynthesis, leaves use the fuel of sunlight to convert water, carbon dioxide, and minerals to the sugars, starches, and proteins that the plant needs to survive, grow, and reproduce.
Leaves may vary in size, texture, hairiness, and green color, depending on the variety. However, weather conditions and cultural practices such as fertilization and irrigation management can also influence size, thickness, and color of the leaves.
|As the plant grows, internodes continue to extend, and new leaves are formed at each node. The number and length of internodes, which determine plant height, are influenced by the variety and also by soil type, moisture, nutrients, insects, and diseases.||The terminal bud is the key to plant growth and leaf and branch arrangement. If the bud is damaged, the normal development cycle of the plant is thrown off balance.|
Vegetative and Fruiting Branches
When the cotton plant is four to five weeks old it will expand its basic framework of root, stem, and leaves and begin to form vegetative and reproductive (fruiting) branches.
Vegetative branches primarily produce more stem and leaves. A certain number of leaves are necessary to carry out photosynthesis or production of plant food. But too much vegetative growth siphons off valuable energy and food that are needed to produce fruit. It delays your crop and makes pest control and harvest harder. There must be a balance between vegetative and reproductive growth. A branch develops from a bud formed in the angle between the leaf stem and the main stem node to which the leaf is attached.
Vegetative branches usually develop only at the lower nodes of the main stem (nodes 4 through 7). They grow nearly upright; and like the main stem, each has a single terminal bud at its tip.If the terminal bud of the main stem is damaged by insects or hail, one or more of the vegetative limbs near the tip takes over as the main stem. If the injury occurs early in the plant’s development, the entire plant may become bunchy and unproductive. That makes protection of the plant from excessive damage by early season insects very important. The cotton plant now makes a transition from vegetative to reproductive and begins to develop fruiting branches. Short-season varieties may set the first fruiting branch at the fourth or fifth node. Longer-season varieties usually form first fruiting limbs at the sixth to eighth node.
In addition to genetic differences, plant population, temperature, and stress also influence the location of the first fruiting branch. Cotton plants growing close together will have fewer vegetative branches and lower fruiting branches than will cotton plants spaced out farther in the row.
Excessive soil moisture and too much nitrogen early in the plant growth period also will cause the plant to set its first reproductive branch too high on the stem. The higher the first fruiting branch, the longer the plant will take to complete fruiting and to mature its bolls. On the other hand, moisture stress early in the season can result in the reproductive branches beginning at nodes 4 or 5, generally resulting in a smaller plant overall with reduced yield potential.
After the first reproductive branch has formed, new branches will develop every 3 days approximately. Unlike vegetative branches, fruiting limbs do not have terminal buds. Each new internode on the branch results from a bud that is formed in the axil (junction) of the leaf on the branch. Here’s what happens: The first part of the reproductive branch to become visible as the branch develops from the axillary bud is the floral bud; it forms the square.
As the branch grows and the internode lengthens, the square is moved away from its original position next to the main stem. A leaf develops beside the square but remains very small for four to seven days. Then, as this leaf enlarges and unfolds, a new axillary bud is formed and develops with its own floral bud to form the second internode and square of the reproductive branch. The process continues over and over throughout the season–leaf, axillary bud, internode, square, leaf, new axillary bud, internode, square, and so on. This type of growth results in the distinctive zigzagging form of reproductive branches.
Vegetative branches do produce some squares. But the process is much slower and very inefficient. So it’s important that your management practices stimulate and protect the early reproductive growth of your crop. The results should be a larger, and certainly earlier, crop.
|Heavy lygus damage promoted thick, bunchy growth in this cotton. This field should already be at the peak of flowering, but no flowers are visible.||Damage from insects or hail early In the season can disrupt the normal branching and fruiting pattern of the cotton plant. Early thrips damage to the terminal bud caused excessive vegetative branching in this plant.|
Under normal conditions, you can generally find the first square on the plant five to eight weeks after the cotton is planted. Since the development of cotton is temperature driven the number of days before you find the first square may be 35 to 47 days after planting. With continuing favorable temperatures the first white bloom should be visible in approximately three weeks after the square is set.
The first square is formed on the lowest reproductive branch of the plant. This branch may be located at the fifth to the ninth main stem node, depending on variety and environment.
If you don’t have squares by the ninth node (as an average of the field), your crop may be in serious trouble. Several reasons may account for the delay, most of the time it is due to lower-than-normal temperatures or insects.
The critical period for producing squares is from June through mid-July. The rate of squaring should increase each week through the fourth week. This rate usually levels off during the fifth and sixth weeks, then drops sharply as fruit retention matches the plants ability to provide food for growth.
You need to avoid any situation that may cause the squaring rate to drop off sharply at any time up through the fifth week. Research shows that as many as 85% of the total bolls that eventually are harvested come from squares set during the first four to five weeks of squaring.
Some shedding of squares is expected. In fact, under the best management, the cotton plant will slough off 40 to 50% of all squares that it produces. The important thing is not to lose too many of the early squares. Extensive shedding–especially if it occurs early in the season–can upset the vegetable/fruiting balance of the plant and reduce yields. Experts suggest that plants should be holding no less than 60% of the early pinhead squares (1/8-inch in diameter).
The first three positions on each reproductive branch are the key sites for fruiting. They account for most of the yield. According to research, over 70% of the total lint is produced from the first square on each reproductive branch. To put it another way, the squares nearest the main stalk on each fruiting branch will make up over seventy percent of your total yield. The second series of squares accounts for another one-third or more of the crop. Those squares farther out produce less than 30% of the final number of mature bolls.
Square shed may be the result of insect damage or poor growing conditions. Conditions that can cause a plant to drop its squares include very dense stands, rank plant growth, extended cloudy weather, too much nitrogen, low root oxygen because of water-logged soils, hot dry winds and temperatures below 60°F for several nights.
Dense stands or rank growth shade the lower fruiting branches. They either stop growing or shed a large portion of their squares. Avoid planting too thick or fertilizing or irrigating excessively.
Damage from plant bugs (lygus, fleahoppers, and tarnished plant bugs) also can cause square shed. Inspect fields every three to seven days beginning at the pinhead square stage. This lets you monitor the squaring rate and status of both damaging and beneficial insects.
The cotton plant has a tremendous capacity to make up for square shedding. It is very forgiving of mismanagement, pest attack, and poor growing conditions–but to a limit. Using those practices that will stimulate a high fruiting rate and square set provide a stern test of your management ability.
|Here are the various stages of square development: pinhead and matchhead square.||Here are the various stages of square development: 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days.|
|Exposed square (floral bud).||Cross section of square.|
The cotton plant develops in an orderly, predictable pattern. If you are familiar with the fruiting stages, their sequence, and the time required for each stage, you can tell if your crop is on schedule. For example, you should spot the first white bloom 60 to 80 days from planting. That will be from 20 to 27 days (23 days average) after the square or bud develops.
It will take about 8 days between the opening of a flower on one fruiting branch and the opening of the bloom in the same position on the next higher fruiting branch. That’s known as vertical flowering. About 6 days pass between the appearance of two consecutive blooms on the same branch (horizontal flowering).
The cotton bloom is a perfect flower (see sketch). It has both male parts (pollen-producing stamens, each with a double-lobed anther) and female parts (stigma, style, and ovary) in the same flower. The ovary has 4 to 5 carpels or locks. Each lock contains 8 to 12 ovules that may develop into seed. The outside parts of the flower include the calyx with its five leaf-like divisions or sepals; three bracts; and five petals that are fused at the base.
The petals of American upland cotton flowers are white or creamy colored. Those of Pima or extra-long-staple cotton are yellow. The flowers open during the morning, and pollination usually occurs within a few hours. Pollen grains from the anther drop to the sticky surface of the stigma. Fertilization–the union of a male reproductive cell from a single pollen grain and a female cell in the ovule–normally takes place within 24 to 30 hours after pollination.
The fertilized ovule develops into a seed. Some of the ovules may not develop fully or are aborted. If a majority of the seed abort, the boll will fall off the plant within 7 to 10 days after flowering.
Cotton flowers usually are self-pollinated. However, bees or other insects may increase the frequency of cross-pollination. Temperatures above 100°F and moisture–rain or high humidity–reduce pollination. A bloom will not pollinate after the first day.
The creamy or white petals of the flower turn pink after 24 hours and shed within a week as the fertilized ovules of the ovary grow into a boll.
In most of the Cotton Belt, the effective bloom period occurs from late June or early July to mid-August. Water stress during this period will cause the largest loss of yields.
As has been noted, many factors influence fruiting, blooming, and shedding. These include variety, temperature, length of the growing season, soil moisture, fertility, insects and diseases.
It is especially important to keep the plant developing and holding its fruit early in the season. Research shows that in the Southeast and the High Plains, about 85% of the total bolls are set during the first three weeks of blooming, 10% during the fourth week, and less than 5% from the fifth through the seventh weeks.
In the San Joaquin Valley of California, 64% of the bolls are set during the first five weeks of blooming, 28% during the sixth and seventh weeks, and less than 8% during the eighth through eleventh weeks.
This plant shows all fruit stages: squares, white blooms, and bolls. You also can spot the vertical and horizontal fruiting arrangement.
The Miracle of Fiber Development
Cross section of a full-sized boll shows seed, lint, and individual locks. Upland cotton varieties have four to five locks; each mature lock contains seven to nine seed.
The growth of a seed into a bearing plant consists of a series of microscopic miracles performed by nature. None of these events is more remarkable than the development of the cotton fiber.Once the tiny ovules that will become the seed have been fertilized, the young boll grows rapidly. The cotton fiber develops from the tiny cells located on the outer surface of the seed. Keeping one end firmly anchored to the seedcoat, the fiber stretches out, growing longer day by day. It will reach its maximum length in 15 to 25 days (18 days on an average) after fertilization of the ovule.
Fiber length is largely controlled by the genetic code passed along by the plant’s parents. But length also can be influenced by the environment. Stress during this period, especially for moisture and nutrients may cause fibers to be shorter than normal.
When the strands have stopped growing lengthwise, they begin to fill with cellulose. A cotton fiber is like a hollow tube. Each day, successive layers of cellulose are deposited on the inner surface of the fiber wall in a spiral fashion. The amount and pattern of cellulose deposited determines fiber strength and maturity. Fiber strength is closely related to genetic makeup. Micronaire is influenced by environment and management more than by genetic makeup. Unfavorable growing conditions during the “filling” period may result in weak, immature fibers with low micronaire (a measurement of maturity). Cool nights late in the season extend the boll development period and this can have several undesirable results. The most costly impact is the slow down in fiber filling combined with poor layering of the cellulose.
In approximately 24 days the boll will reach its full size. An additional 24 to 40 days of favorable environmental conditions are needed for the fibers to fill with cellulose and the boll to open.
Not every boll that is formed on the plant makes it to maturity. If not enough of the ovules are fertilized, the boll will fall from the plant 7 to 10 days after flowering. Insects, will feed on and/or bore into the boll. Damage done to small developing bolls 1 to 10 days of age will result in the boll being aborted. After 12 days the boll generally remains on the plant and the damaged locks result in reduced yields.
Young bolls 1 to 10 days of age will be aborted when the demand by various plant parts for food, principally for carbohydrates, exceeds the supply. Older bolls shorted on needed carbohydrates will be smaller in size requiring more bolls to produce a pound of lint.
At some point late in the fruiting period, the cotton plant starts to “cut out.” Cotton has reached “cut out” when the top bloom–in the first position away from the stem–is within 5 nodes of the top of the cotton plant. The plants response to “cutout” is to use the produced carbohydrates to mature the bolls on the plant. No new fruiting branches or squares are formed. Yields will be reduced if cutout occurs too early.
First bolls generally begin to open 105 to 130 days after cotton planting. Bolls set later in the season often take 12 to 25 days longer to mature than do those set early and in the middle of the fruiting season.
If harvest-aid chemicals are applied too early, they prevent deposit of enough cellulose to produce a strong, well developed, mature fiber. Yields also may be reduced. An accepted rule of thumb is to defoliate when 60% of the total crop is open. Desiccants are applied when at least 80% of the boils are open.
|Bolls set in a timely fashion have time to develop and open to produce quality lint with good yield potential.||Late set bolls are generally smaller and may not open. Quality of lint and yield is generally low.|
Your ultimate goal: An abundance of clean, well developed, mature bolls.
This factsheet was inspired by the series of articles written by Del Deterling for Progressive Farmer in 1982. Del Deterling was assisted in that endeavor by Dr. EI-Zik (research scientist with the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University) and photographs were provided by Bobbe Baker (professional freelance photographer).
Photographs were obtained from a number of sources and sincere appreciation is expressed to all contributing photographers.
The information given herein is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Texas AgriLife Extension Service is implied.
Educational programs conducted by Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age or national origin.
Issued in furtherance of AgriLife Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, Acts of Congress of May 8, 1914, as amended, and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. Edward Smith, Director, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System.
Is Cotton A Flower?
Ah, the age-old question…
Is cotton a flower?
Okay, so the question might not be that old but it is still a worthy question to ask. It does grow the same way a flower does after all and it even has a flower attached to the plant itself. One would think all of these things would make a cotton an actual flower, right?
Wrong! Cotton is not a flower, in fact, it is more akin to a dandelion.
Even though cotton is not a flower it’s still available from Fig & Bloom by special request. Simply contact us to send flowers to Sydney or send flowers to Melbourne.
There’s more you probably didn’t know about Cotton, like that fact its growth process starts off much like a flower does with a flower bud appearing sometime within the first 35 days of being planted. Then, a seedling emerges and flower buds shortly after, followed by the actual flowering of the plant.
We know what you’re thinking. Everything that was just mentioned has the word “flower” in it. So, what makes cotton a plant and not a flower? Well, that is a good question.
After about 100 days, cotton bolls begin to fill and open up where the flowers once were. Each boll contains about 32 immature seeds from which cotton fibers will begin to grow. The boll itself is actually considered a fruit because it contains seeds. Then, after the fibers begin to mature, the bolls begin to thicken and form a hollow cotton fiber inside of the boll which is approximately the size of a small fig. The boll reaches its full size after around 25 days after the petals fall and naturally burst open after a further 35 to 55 days where the underlying cotton is then exposed and dried out ready for picking.
After the nearly 180-day growing process, is complete, each plant will contain nearly 15 to 20 bolls and, on average, each boll will contain nearly 500,000 fibers of cotton. Amazing, huh?!
The cotton plant is one of the most intriguing and interesting agricultural staples out there for a number of reasons. Not only is it beautiful to observe for nearly its entire maturation cycle, it’s also interesting in how it develops from bloom to the final open boll. Let’s take a look at each stage of the cotton plant’s development, starting with the initial bloom.
- It all starts with a white flowering bloom that signals the first of many steps to come. The flower is usually small and simple: pure white with a few segments of petals that open. White flowers will usually only stick around for about 24 hours or so, so if you’re interested in catching this short-lived stage, it’s important to pay close attention to your field on a daily basis! And while this stage may come and go quickly, at this point, we’re a long way from cotton harvesting!
- Once the white flower blooms, it self pollinates. In just the matter of a day, that white flower will become a pink color and will continue to open fully. The end result of this stage is a flower that’s generally a vibrant fuchsia color or even a near-purple hue. This stage can last another couple of days, but typically it’ll only be something you’ll see for another 24-36 hours.
- At this next stage, the once beautiful cotton flower is going to quickly wither and die. It’ll shrivel up, turn brown and start to flake or fall off. Don’t worry, your cotton plant isn’t dying! Instead, it’s going through a major transformation as the boll begins to take shape. If you have an especially windy day or grow in a drier climate, you’re liable to find your field absolutely littered with dead blooms as the bulk of your field matures in sync.
- As the developing boll grows larger and larger, it’ll eventually turn from green to purple to brown. When it reaches the pinnacle of its size, the bracts dry and the boll itself cracks open. Over time, the bracts will continue to pull apart until the cotton becomes exposed.
- Finally, we have the open boll! A fully opened boll will look like a different kind of bloom—instead of petals opening up, however, you’re going to have cotton fiber spilling out. It’s at this point that harvest is usually immanent.
And so you have it: the life cycle of a cotton plant, from bloom to harvest! Anyone who has cropped cotton in the past is likely very familiar with each stage above, but it’s nice to see them laid out simply and thoroughly.
As a final note, make sure you’re using the lifespan of your cotton plants to your advantage. During the early stages of maturation, be sure to check over your cotton harvester parts, make any tune-ups to your harvester and be sure to run through startup services. By adhering to the cycle of the cotton plant, you’ll ensure you’re ready to harvest when the bulk of your field crop has reached its final stage and the open bolls are ready to be picked.
Cotton is an amazing plant, full of rich history (bright and dark) and has been a massive economic driver in the South. It’s also a beautiful plant that can add attraction to any backyard. Given some of the trials and tribulations around cotton, I wondered if it was legal for me to put it in my backyard during our renovation – if it was legal, and if it was possible farther north. So I took a little time to look into it and this is what I found.
So can I grow cotton in my backyard? It’s definitely possible to grow cotton in more mild climates. In more northern states and near the border in Canada, cotton can be grown from seed to mature boil. It may take a lot of love and extra care to bring your plants to maturity but it’s worth the trouble.
Characteristics of Cotton and What it Needs
Cotton is a perennial plant usually grown in warmer southern states because of the long growing season – about 5 months, and the need for continuous heat to get the plant to maturity. During the growing season cotton will first product yellow flowers, and then a large boll of fibers and seeds that are the fruit of the plant. Cotton can be started inside to extend the growing season or in the controlled conditions of a greenhouse and needs soil temperatures of 60F/16C for its entire growing season. Cotton grows well in hardiness zones 8-11, which excludes it from surviving most winters in northern climates (see here for what the heck a hardiness zone is.)
Because cotton is a plant that will be killed by the frost is is often grown as an annual if you’re growing it farther north with the plants dying and being replanted each year. The bolls will dry and open allowing access to the fibers and the seeds after the plant has died and dried out – after a frost the bolls can even be picked and brought inside to dry and open. Another option is to move the plants into a controlled greenhouse or back inside – cotton can be grown in containers which provides several options for growing and moving the plant.
How to Grow Cotton in Colder Areas
So how do you grow cotton plants in colder areas? The best way is to start the plant inside. Grab yourself any 6 inch pot or similar container (you can get creative here) and fill it with potting soil – leaving a couple of inches at the top. Place three or four cotton seeds in to the pot, cover with some more soil so there is about an inch free at the top, and moisten. Remember the soil temperature has to be 60F/16C, so let the soil warm completely in the house before planting the seeds. Place the filled pot in a sunny spot to germinate and start to grow. Once you see sprouts, make sure you rotate the pot about a quarter turn when you water it (about every 7 days) to ensure that your plant will grow evenly. When the plant is outside the light moves, but you don’t get the same kind of movement inside.
After the seedlings sprout, choose the best of the seedlings and keep that in the current pot – remove the others (you can replant them in another pot if you want to try and keep them) and continue to water every 7 days. Make sure you add fertilizer according the the instructions on the bottle. When the plant is about to flower you have a couple of choices – transplant it outside if it’s warm enough (soil temps higher than 60F/16C) or move it to a bigger pot(think 12″). The larger pot can be moved outside and back in if the temperature is low or fluctuates. It should take 6-8 weeks for the plant to flower, so plan accordingly.
Harvesting Your Cotton in Colder Climates
Because cotton requires a fair bit of heat to flower and produce the required fibers, you may find that in your garden you get bolls but the never burst to provide the cotton fibers themselves. That’s not a problem – as long as the bolls are there. When the cotton plant dies at the first frost, it will go woodlke (like a dried branch). When that happens, if the boll has not burst, remove them from the plant and bring them inside to dry. When the bolls have dried out, they will still burst and provide access to the cotton. I’ve read about people placing them near a fireplace if they have them to get warm dry heat, but haven’t tried it myself.
When the bolls have burst you get a combination of cotton fibers and seeds, and the seeds are buried deep inside the fibers. Working the seeds out by hand can be a major pain (which is why someone invented the cotton gin!) but can be a fun activity with kids. Make sure you wear gloves while extracting the cotton and seeds from the boll! Those boll edges are sharp and can cut you.
Cotton is Illegal to Grow in Some US States
In states where cotton is a cash crop, growing it in your backyard can be illegal to grow cotton in your backyard. This is thanks to a little beetle called Boll Weevil, or more accurately the Boll Weevil eradication programs. The boll weevil feeds on cotton buds and flowers, and can devastate the large scale producers if not aggressively controlled.
When I last checked, growing cotton in your backyard is illegal in the following states. This may have changed or may change in the future, so make sure you check your local laws before planting cotton in your backyard.
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
What can I do with my cotton after I harvest it? Activities with kids (like helping get out the seeds, or soaking and re-planting the seeds), spinning, stuffing, quilting, wreaths – whatever comes to mind!.
Is cotton good to grow for kids? Yes! The harvesting of the seeds all the way through planting is easy and a great activity for kids (just watch the edges of the boll – they’re sharp!
Can I eat cotton seeds? Not if you’re human! Cotton seeds contain
gossypol, which is toxic to humans. Don’t do it.
Can I replant my cotton seeds? Yes! You will need to soak them overnight before re-planting, but you should be able to store them in a closed container in a dark space until the next growing season.