How to plant cotton tree

Tips For Growing Cotton With Kids

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By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Image by David Fisher

Cotton growing with kids is easy and most will find this to be a fun project in addition to an educational one, especially once the finished product is harvested. Let’s learn more about how to grow cotton both indoors and out.

Cotton Plant Info

While cotton (Gossypium) has been around for a long time and grown mainly for its fibers, cotton growing with kids can be a fun learning experience. Not only will they get a chance to learn some cotton plant info, but they will love the fluffy, white product of all their labor. You can take the lesson further by exploring how your harvested cotton gets processed to make the clothes we wear.

Cotton is a warm climate plant. It cannot tolerate temperatures cooler than 60°F. (15 C.). If you live in a cooler climate, it is better to start the plant indoors and then transplant it out once the temps have warmed up. Cotton is also self-pollinating, so you don’t need a lot of plants.

How to Grow Cotton Outdoors

Cotton is planted outdoors in spring once the threat of frost has passed. Check the soil temperature with a soil thermometer to ensure that it is at least 60 degrees F. (15 C.) six inches (15 cm.) down. Keep checking this for a three-day period every morning. Once the soil maintains this temperature, you can work the soil, adding an inch (2.5 cm.) or so of compost to it. Compost is a great source of nitrogen, potassium, and trace minerals necessary for strong plant growth.

Help your child create a furrow with a garden hoe. Moisten the soil. Plant your cotton seeds in groups of three, one inch (2.5 cm.) deep and four inches (10 cm.) apart. Cover and firm the soil. Within a couple weeks, the seeds should begin to sprout. Under optimal conditions, they will sprout within a week but temps under 60 degrees F. ( 15 C.) will prevent or delay germination.

Growing Cotton Plants Indoors

Planting cotton seeds indoors is also possible, keeping temperatures over 60 degrees F. (15 C.) (which shouldn’t be difficult in the house). Pre-moisten potting soil and mix this with healthy soil from the garden.

Cut the top from a ½ gallon ( 2 L ) milk jug and add some drainage holes in the bottom (You can also use any 4-6  inch (10 to 15 cm) pot of your choosing). Fill this container with the potting mix, leaving a space of about two inches (5 cm.) or so from the top. Place about three cotton seeds on top of the soil and then cover with another inch (2.5 cm.) or so of potting mix.

Place in sunlight and keep moist, adding water as needed so the upper portion of soil does not get too dry. You should begin to see sprouts within 7-10 days. Once the seedlings have sprouted, you can thoroughly water the plants each week as part of your cotton plant care. Also, rotate the pot so the cotton seedlings grow uniformly.

Transplant the strongest seedling to a larger container or outdoors, making sure to provide at least 4-5 hours of sunlight.

Cotton Plant Care

You will need to keep the plants watered throughout the summer months as part of optimal cotton plant care.

At around four to five weeks, the plants will begin branching. By eight weeks you should start to notice the first squares, after which blooming soon follows. Once the creamy, white flowers have been pollinated, they will turn pink. At this point the plants will begin producing a boll (which becomes the ‘cotton ball.’). It is crucial that water be given during this entire process to ensure adequate growth and production.

Cotton is ready for harvesting once all of the bolls have cracked open and looks like a fluffy ball. This normally occurs within four months of planting. The growing cotton plants will naturally dry up and shed their leaves just prior to the bolls cracking. Be sure to wear some gloves when harvesting cotton from your plants to protect your little one’s hands from getting cut.

Your harvested cotton can be dried and the seeds saved for planting again next year.

Note: Because of boll weevil infestation concerns, it is illegal in many US states to grow cotton in your backyard. Check with your local extension office before planting cotton.

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A Complete Guide on How to Plant, Grow, & Harvest Cotton

Cotton is an indispensable crop. We use cotton to make everything from clothing and rope to fishing nets, coffee filters, and paper. These days, more and more people are trying their hand at growing cotton, whether its to live a self-sufficient lifestyle, to learn an ancient craft, or to make a little cash.

Cotton is a member of Malvaceae – the mallow family. It’s related to hibiscus, hollyhocks, and okra. You’re probably familiar with the puffy cotton bolls, but did you know the flowers of the cotton plant are beautiful as well? They start off white and then turn a lovely shade of pink.

Cotton is a labor-intensive crop and takes lots of tender loving care. We grew cotton one year to help us understand what early Americans experienced. The bolls have sharp spiny edges which can poke you, which gave us sympathy for what many people, including slaves in the South, have gone through trying to harvest this crop.

Cotton is still a major commercial crop in the southern United States. After all, your blue jeans and t-shirts are still made of cotton. On a smaller scale, you can use it to create your own yarn or sell at a market.

What Is A Cotton Boll?

The cotton boll (not ball) is the seed pod of the plant. The seeds are attached to wispy thread like fibers in order so that they will become air born when the boll opens. This is the plants way of dispersing offspring to new locations.

Is It Legal To Grow Cotton?

Before you get started, it’s important to know that many states have outlawed growing cotton in an attempt to eradicate the cotton boll weevil.

It’s currently illegal or restricted to grow cotton in:

  • Arkansas
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolin
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Check with your local extension office for full details. Some states require a permit that states you’re growing a small amount that you don’t intend to use for commercial value. Other states may have you participate in an education program that explains how to control the boll weevil so that it doesn’t contaminate nearby farms.

Cotton Varieties

Many people don’t realize that cotton comes in a variety of colors. White cotton used to be the standard for commercial growers. Today’s cotton is often bleached to bring out a uniform color.

In the past, brown cotton was commonly grown for personal use by slaves and poor whites. However, pink, green, blue, and yellow have all been popular at one time or another.

Many of these colors were developed by slaves and black freedmen because they were not allowed to grow the “white” cotton of their masters. Colored cotton varieties weren’t as favored because they have shorter plant fibers, which are harder to spin and dye.

Nowadays, these colorful heirlooms can be hard to find. If you want to give them a try, one good source for heirloom cotton is Southern Exposure Seeds located in Virginia.

Arkansas Green Lint Cotton

This variety produces yellow-pink flowers that make nice cut bouquets. The cotton is a light green and has short fibers with dark green seeds. It takes 135 days to mature.

Erlene’s Green Cotton

Another green variety that is known for its ease of spinning. After washing, the fibers take on a more yellowish-green color. Tall plants grow to five feet high and take 130 days to mature.

Mississippi Brown Cotton

This variety makes history come alive. It’s a cultivar that was once favored by slaves and makes a wonderful yarn. Plants grow five feet tall and are extremely drought tolerant. The cotton color ranges from light tan to a rich golden brown. This type matures in 130 days.

Nankeen Cotton

Nankeen is the king of heirloom cottons. It was grown during the Civil War. It appears as a natural brown color on the plant, but the lint becomes copper colored when washed. Nankeen is a hardy, insect resistant variety that will do well in poor soil and drought-prone areas.

Red Foliated White Cotton

This is a great variety to grow in containers or a flower bed. It has striking red leaves and stems that pair well with beautiful yellow and white flowers.  A bit smaller, this one grows three to five feet tall. The cotton is a naturally bright white color. It matures in 120 days.

Egyptian Fine

This is a newer variety used in modern commercial crops. Egyptian fine is the cotton that is famously used in sheets and fabrics. It produces a white long, fine fiber. It has a longer growing period and matures in 155 days.

Planting Cotton

Sowing Cotton

Cotton is a warm-weather annual that needs a long growing season. You can sow it directly in the ground if you live in zones 8-10.

In zones 5-7 treat cotton as you would tomato plants. Seed them inside in a high-quality seedling mixture in a warm room with plant lights about six weeks before last expected frost. Plant two seeds per peat cup. Plant seeds one inch deep. Thin seeds to one per pot.

Cotton germinates best in temperatures between 75-80°F. The seeds take about two weeks to germinate, so don’t get impatient.

Soil Requirements

Cotton prefers loose earth, but many varieties will grow in compact, drier soil. Cotton can handle sandy, loamy, and clay types equally well. Plants prefer a pH between 5.5-8.5, and well-drained, rich earth. Add a generous amount of compost to the first several inches of soil before planting.

Sun Requirements

Cotton needs full sun to be productive.

Growing in Containers

You can also grow cotton indoors as a houseplant because it does well in containers. You’ll need to give it supplemental light if you want it to be productive.

You can also grow cotton outside in containers. Make sure you use a larger pot, such as the size used for trees.


If you are planting directly in the soil, plant seeds about four inches apart and rows about 30 inches apart. Cotton is self-pollinating, so that makes it easy to grow a small garden.

Caring For Your Cotton Plants


Keep your growing cotton plants moist but not wet.  Too much water makes them prone to rot diseases. Water is especially important during the time the boll is developing.


Cotton is a heavy feeder and needs nitrogen and potash. It also appreciates an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Organic fertilizers developed for tomatoes are well suited to your cotton plants.


Cotton benefits from a thick application of mulch. Straw is best as it retains moisture but allows for air circulation.

Problems and Solutions to Growing Cotton


Armyworm hasn’t been a major problem historically, but it seems to be increasing in some states in the south. The good news is that many new strains of cotton are resistant. The major challenge is telling the difference between an armyworm and a bollworm.

If you do have an armyworm infestation, a mix of pyrethroid and Diamond will do the job to get rid of them.


Is there any plant that aphids won’t attack? These tiny insects suck the life out of cotton and can stunt growth. Spray them off plants with a blast of water and then treat with neem oil to keep them away.


Cutworms are the larvae of brown and gray moths. They nibble cotton plants at the base, cutting them off at the soil surface. If you don’t have a massive garden, you can create cotton collars to prevent the worms from eating your plants.

You can also sprinkle bran meal and cornmeal around the plants with a trail leading away from the plant stems. They will eat the meal and die.

At the end of the season, remove all plant debris and cultivate the soil.

Boll Weevil or Bollworm

The primary pest of the cotton plant is the boll weevil. This beetle feeds on the buds and flowers of cotton plants. Adults overwinter in fields and emerge in late spring to lay eggs. They have many natural predators such as spiders, birds, and parasitic wasps.

Boll weevils are a poster child for sustainable agriculture. Initially, commercial farmers sought to control the boll weevil with DDT – a harmful chemical popular in the 1950s. The boll weevil became immune to DDT and continued to flourish, decimating crops.

Now, eradication of the boll weevil uses more sustainable controls such as plowing and exposing eggs in winter.


Slugs can be a problem, especially in moist areas. They like to hide in the mulch during the day and come out at night to eat the leaves of plants.

Fortunately, slugs are easy to control. You can hand pick them and toss them to your chickens or into a bucket of soapy water. Sluggo, an organic pest control, also works well.

A good homemade remedy is to put beer in a saucer and bury it at ground level. The slugs climb in, get drunk and die from the salts in the beer.

Alternia and Stemphylium Leaf Spot

As the name implies, these diseases cause spots to appear on plant leaves. As the disease progresses, the spots expand and turn necrotic. Plants with potassium deficiency are more likely to suffer from these issues. Make sure plants are well-fed and well-watered to help them avoid falling victim to leaf spot.

Bacterial Blight

Also known as Angular Leaf Spot, this disease is caused by a bacteria that appears as water-soaked lesions that gradually increase in size. You can buy resistant cultivars if you struggle with this disease, and be sure to rotate your crops.

Fusarium Wilt

Like tomatoes, cotton is susceptible to fusarium wilt. This disease attacks the roots of growing cotton and then spreads up the plant, causing it to wilt. Keep pests away because they spread this disease and keep plants healthy so they can resist it. Sterilize tools between use, and remove and destroy any plants that exhibit symptoms.

Cotton Root Rot

Cotton is susceptible to root rot, which often occurs in early summer. It causes the leaves to wilt and can kill young plants. Keep plants well-fed and rotate crops. You can also plant a sorghum barrier to help keep it out.

Companion Plants for Growing Cotton

Cotton gets along well with many herbs including basil, cilantro, mint, dill, and sage. It makes a good pairing with onions and garlic which may help with repelling the boll weevil. It’s also a good companion for sunflower.

Avoid growing cotton with potato.

Harvesting and Storing Cotton

Cotton is slow to mature. It takes 70 days of warm weather (above 60°F) before the cotton plant flowers. After flowering, the plant will need an additional 50 days before it forms seed pods. The cotton is part of the seed pod or boll.

If you are familiar with milkweed then you can imagine how cotton looks in the seed pod. Where milkweed is silkier, cotton strands are fluffier.

Cotton has a long harvest period of 4-6 weeks. The bolls will become dry and hard. When they break open and reveal the cotton they are ready to harvest. The harvest usually starts in July in Southern states and ends in November in Northern states.

Each plant can yield up to one hundred cotton bolls. It is best to wear gloves when you pick the bolls because the inside is extremely prickly. Grasp the ball of cotton and twist it to remove it from the shell.

While commercial cotton is harvested these days by giant machines, picking cotton by hand is one way for us to get in touch with our collective history. To harvest cotton, grab it at the base and twist it out of the boll. The entire cotton plant won’t be ready to pluck at the same time, so only take the bolls that are ready to go and leave the others for later.

Once you’ve harvested it, spread the cotton out in a cool, dark area and let it dry. Once the cotton is dry, you will need to separate the seeds out.

Use your cotton for crafts that require a cotton ball, or use it as the stuffing for homemade toys or pillows. You can also card and spin it into a fiber.

What Happens If The Weather Turns Cold?

The cotton plant will not survive a frost. If you live in a northern climate zone and the weather turns cold you can still save your bolls.

Pick the bolls off the plant and place them in a warm spot such as near a wood stove. Some of them will continue to ripen and open up.

We can’t wait to see what you make with your home-grown cotton. Be sure to share your projects in the comments.

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Ceiba - cotton tree / Description of the ceiba tree / Use of the cotton tree

In our country, there are a lot of exotic lovers among gardeners, but even few of them have heard of such an unusual plant as ceiba. It is a deciduous tree belonging to the Malvaceae family. Among her "relatives" are not only mallow, but also baobab. In the tropical zone of our planet, there are over 10 varieties of this amazing mighty tree, which has a whole set of unique features.

Sacred tree

Ceiba, also known by other names such as sumauma, ceiba, cotton tree, kapok, grows in West Africa, South and Central America, the Indonesian Islands, and Thailand. Due to its unusual qualities, it is reflected in the religious beliefs of local residents in many countries.

Mayan Indians associated ceiba with the Universe, providing a connection between its components. The crown of the tree reaches the sky where the gods live. The trunk is the world of mere mortals. And the root system is in the infra-world. Today's descendants of the Maya revere ceiba as a symbol of endurance, wisdom.

This tree was sacred to Cubans. They believed that all the saints they revere, as well as all deceased ancestors, regardless of social status, religious beliefs, skin color, after death, choose the crown of ceiba for themselves as a place of eternal abode. Christians associate ceiba with the Virgin Mary, Afro-Cubans with Saint Santa Barbara.

In Old Havana, on the Square of Arms, not far from the Chapel, grows a ceiba called the Wishing Tree. It is believed that it was under the canopy of its branches in 1519The religious act of consecrating San Cristobal de la Havana, the historical name of the capital of Cuba, took place in the year. Every year a staged procession takes place here. Spengler Eusebio Leal, the chief historian of Havana, reads out a document that at one time announced the founding of the city. After that, all local residents who wish, guests who have arrived from all over the world, take turns counterclockwise three times around the tree, make wishes, throw coins to the base of the tree, and touch the trunk with their hands.

Ceiba is considered a sacred tree not only in the countries of South and Central America. Wherever these majestic trees are found, they are forbidden to cut, uproot, burn. Even if the century-old giants die under the influence of natural causes, they remain just as revered and respected.

Ceiba grows in the Commonwealth Park in Havana, symbolizing the brotherhood of the peoples of the American continent, the commonwealth between all the nations inhabiting it. For its planting, the earth was brought from different countries of Latin America.

Botanical description

Ceiba is one of the fastest growing trees. Under optimal conditions, at the initial stage of its development, it can grow by more than 5 m per year. Gradually, the growth rate slows down. As already mentioned, there are more than 10 types of ceiba, and all of them differ in impressive dimensions. So, for example, the magnificent ceiba (chorisia) can reach a height of 50-60 m. At the same time, there is a thickening in its lower part, which gave rise to another name for it - a bottle tree. This thickening, which is about 2.5 m in diameter, is designed to accumulate moisture. On the surface of the trunk, the branches of the tree are scattered with thick conical spikes. The crown looks like a giant umbrella, towering above the rest of the inhabitants of the rainforest.

The tree has an extensive root system, but it is not located very deep below the soil surface, only at a depth of 40-60 cm. In addition, it lacks a central rod. This is the reason why many giants do not withstand the onslaught of strong winds and fall. Some scientists believe that in order to withstand the hurricane, the trees "created" special protection - buttresses. These are peculiar multi-level vertically located outgrowths, structures 2-7 m long.

The spreading crown crowning the top of the tree looks like a huge umbrella. In it, among the dark green palmate wedge-shaped (ovoid) serrated, reminiscent of ash leaves, a whole ecosystem is formed. Various birds, frogs, insects, snakes, small monkeys live here. Leaves (5-15 pieces each) are arranged oppositely on small cuttings.

Ceiba deciduous tree. When autumn comes, it sheds its leaves. After that, the flowering period begins and cup-shaped flowers are formed on the branches, having 5 oblong petals 2-15 cm long, resembling the usual mallow, hibiscus, which in our country can be found everywhere in household plots, in squares, parks, gardens.

The color of the petals varies from hot pink to burgundy and purple. But their aroma is quite specific and not everyone likes it. However, it attracts bees, the plant is an excellent honey plant, monarch butterflies, and other insects. In some species of ceiba, flowers bloom only at night, so bats are “responsible” for their pollination. The flowers stay on the branches for several weeks, after which the fallen petals cover the ground under the tree with a soft carpet.

In place of pollinated flowers, fruits are tied. It takes several weeks to form them. Outwardly, they resemble avocados: rounded smooth greenish-brown boxes about 20 cm long, with 5 compartments. The inner surface of the fruit is lined with cotton-like long light hairs called kapok silk or simply kapok. After the seeds ripen, the bolls open and, together with fluffy "cotton" fibers coated with a waxy substance, small black-brown seeds fall to the ground. Ceiba begins to bear fruit at the age of 7-8 years, yielding 600-4000 capsules each year.

New plants develop from seeds that remain viable throughout the year. Once in a favorable environment, they germinate very quickly. You can also get seedlings vegetatively by cutting young shoots from the plant. Cuttings easily form roots. Plants need fertile soil to thrive. Ceiba is resistant to drought, but does not tolerate low temperatures at all, therefore in our country it can only be used for growing indoors: greenhouses, conservatories, winter gardens. Usually dwarf artificially created varieties are used for this.


Initially, ceiba grew in Central and South America, but through human efforts, it has taken root in other regions favorable for it, where people have found use for it in a wide variety of areas of their activity.

  • Flower petals contain a large amount of useful substances: vitamins, lignins, saponins, tannins. Therefore, they are used in medicine for the manufacture of anti-cold, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic drugs.
  • From the bark of a tree, the Maya Indians made a specific drink that allowed them to enter a state of trance, during which they talked with the souls of both dead and living people. In addition, a brown technical dye was made from it.
  • Inhabitants of Africa prepare juice, decoctions from the bark and leaves, which effectively resist inflammatory and infectious diseases, allow you to remove the fever, promote the healing of pustular wounds, ulcers, reduce swelling, relieve pain in diseases of the heart, stomach.
  • Ceiba seeds contain fats and protein. An oil is obtained from them, which contains linoleic and oleic acids. The oil goes to human food, is used for technical purposes, for soap making, and the cake left after pressing is used as feed for livestock. Leaves and young shoots are also used for feeding pets.
  • Kapok (kapok silk, wool, cotton) has high heat and sound insulation properties. It is light, elastic, hypoallergenic, which makes it an excellent material for filling pillows, blankets, car seats, upholstered furniture. To reduce flammability, it is treated with special compounds. People also appreciated such qualities inherent in kapkov cotton as water resistance, buoyancy. This made it possible to use it in the creation of life jackets. But for the manufacture of fabric it can not be used.
  • Light, light, soft wood, easy to process. Having large pores, it is hygroscopic, it absorbs varnishes and paints well. During turning, the wood cracks easily, so the furniture from it is not of very high quality. But it is used to make plywood, beautiful veneer, make furniture boxes, materials for building fences. Production waste is used for the production of paper, ropes, matches.

Maya Indians hollowed out light, nimble pies (canoes), dishes, shoes from whole large tree trunks. And flat buttresses were used for the construction of residential buildings.

Bombacas cotton tree

Have you heard of silk or cotton trees? This is the name of some species of trees of the Bombax family, or baobabs. Everyone has probably heard of baobabs. Their relative, the bombax, is much less known. In the wild, it grows on the Hindustan Peninsula, reaching the Himalayas. But thanks to the beautiful flowers and unusual trunk, this type of tree is widely used for landscaping in the subtropical zone.

Bombax ceiba is a deciduous tree that reaches a height of up to 30 m. throughout Southeast Asia. Leaves are five to eight lobed.

Large, palm-sized, bright red flowers are pollinated primarily by bats. During flowering, the plant is visited by a wide variety of insects and birds - hunters for nectar, which usually accumulates at the base of the sepals.

Kapok is used to stuff pillows.

Now Bombax Seiba is valued for its beauty, and earlier it was a very important industrial crop, as it produced kapok, a silky fiber that practically does not get wet in water.

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