Malvaceae Gossypium–we know it as cotton–is a tropical plant that needs a long, warm growing season to produce fruit. Cotton bolls are considered fruit because they contain seeds. Growing cotton in the home garden is not difficult and is an educational project for children. Watching the process from seed to beautiful white flowers to the bolls opening to reveal the cotton is a fascinating experience. The cotton can be used for craft projects, and the dried bolls can be used in flower arrangements when the plant is finished.
Choose an area with full sun that is high enough to drain off water after a hard rain. The area will need to be large enough for rows to be 30 inches apart with seeds planted 4 inches apart. Soil temperature must be 60 degrees for three straight mornings before planting in the spring.
Remove the top layer of lawn turf or weeds from the soil with a straight-edged shovel. Till the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Rake out any leftover weeds or stones and make the soil level. This can be done as soon as you can work the soil.
Place 2 inches of compost over the bed and till it into the soil well. Water the soil thoroughly after amending with the compost. Water every other day to allow weed seed to sprout. Pull the weeds once you start to see them.
Use a soil thermometer to check the temperature of the soil after the bed is prepared. Once you have recorded the temperature at 60 degrees for three straight days, planting can take place.
Drag a hoe in a straight line to create the rows and furrows between the rows. Water the soil well for a few hours to create a deep, moist soil.
Plant the seeds in the moist soil. Group three seeds in each planting hole 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart. Cover lightly with the soil and firm it around the seeds. The seeds should start to sprout in about 15 days.
Do not water the plants for a month after they have sprouted. Then water once a week or every other week, depending on rainfall. Stop watering four months after planting as you see the bolls starting to dry out and the leaves start to drop. Harvest the cotton when the bolls split open and the cotton is fluffy.