Since ancient times, cotton has been grown and spun, woven and dyed to make clothing. When the plants were introduced to the United States, it became the cash crop for farmers in the Southern region of the country and it still is today. With a good understanding of the life cycle of the cotton plant, growers can more effectively manage their crops.
Cotton seeds are planted in rows of shallow trenches. They require a minimum of 180 days to mature, but the first 40 days after planting is the most crucial time for them. Cotton seeds require plenty of sunshine and a moderate amount of water to grow into healthy, mature plants.
The root system of the cotton plant is made up of a primary root that develops many lateral roots. It is not unusual for mature plants to have roots that travel nine feet deep, but typically the root system is approximately two feet below the soil.
A cotton seedling will sprout from the ground within a week after planting. It grows into a shrub-like plant consisting of a main stem with a series of branching points called "nodes."
Cotton plants begin to produce buds or "squares" after their eighth week. It takes approximately three weeks for a bloom to emerge. During that time frame, there are five distinct sizes of the bloom. It starts as a "pin-head square" and grows to a "match-head square." The "square mid-point" is the next size, followed by the "candle" and finally the "white bloom."
The white flower petals turn pink within 24 hours. They drop off and expose the boll. The boll is the final stage of the plant's life cycle in which the cotton fibers form. The boll takes at least 60 days to reach maturity.