Starting Cotton Seeds Indoors
Cotton (Gossypium ssp.)
Starting cotton seeds indoors is very easy to do. Being in the Northeast, I know I will be housing the seedlings over the winter, for bloom in mid- to late summer the following year. This is because cotton has a fairly long growth period to blossoming. Some varieties are 100 days to blooming (Hopi cotton, Gossypium hirsutum var.punctatum. ), but most average 180 days.
Why grow your own cotton? There are a few reasons, perhaps the most important is that it will enable you to have all the cotton yarn you can grow. :)
The cotton industry is a large one in the United States. For the most part, as far as I have been able to research, Pima cotton (also called Egyptian cotton) is the variety most commonly grown by the large operations. Pima cotton is a long-fiber cotton; long as compared to the native, short-fiber cotton. The longer fibers of Pima seem to be preferred for high-end clothing, thus, larger companies seem to grow that for the profit margin. Unfortunately this also means that a large amount of the pesticide pollution in the world is attributed to cotton growing.
The "original" cotton is Gossypium hirtsutum, a short-fiber cotton that today, still grows as a native plant in the Southern states. The most interesting thing for me about short-fiber cotton is that it comes in colors! - it grows naturally in colors of brown to red and green to yellow, as well as white. I have read on several sites that originally, only the plantation owners grew the white varieties, the natural-color varieties were the plants the slaves were allowed to grow. These naturally colored cottons are also grown all over the world, you may have seen Peruvian cotton in colors, (generally at high prices) - it's basically the same natural-color cotton we have had here in the U.S., and are letting become endangered as a plant.
A vintage stereoview card showing Chinese workers picking cotton in Peru
Naturally-colored cottons in the colors of pink and blue are also mentioned here and there, and somewhat dismissed as ever having really existed. As a horticulturist, I know that the alkalinity or acidity of a soil will affect a plants color (in certain species) - think of a hydrangea, for example: their colors range from blue to pink depending on the soil. So, whether folklore or not, the colors of blues and pinks in cotton are not an impossibility in my opinion, and I may do some growing tests with different soils to see what grows.
In the meantime, I'm growing short-fiber cottons in the colors of green and brown. My experience as an artist allows me to have knowledge of dyes and colorations for yarn, but the natural colors of cotton have a subtleness that cannot be found outside of nature.
The instructions below will suit any variety of cotton.
To start your seeds:
Fill a small plant pot with a good, well-mixed soil or soil-less potting mix. I generally use a soil-less mix that is made up of peat, perlite, and vermiculite, but any potting soil will do as long as it isn't on the heavy side. Place the pot in a shallow bowl or container of water and let the soil become damp from the bottom up.
Plant the seeds about 1/2" deep, and at least one inch away from each other.
Keep the seedlings damp, but not wet, watering from the bottom by placing the pot in a container as you did for dampening the soil.
Cotton will need plenty of light. Winters in the Northeast are fairly "grey", but up here, a southern windowsill does receive enough light to keep the plants growing. They may "stretch" for the light a bit (etiolation) , so a plant light or other overhead light is preferred for optimum growth.
The seedlings are fairly large and grow quickly, so plan for them needing room and plenty of light.
Check the package of your seeds for their height at maturity. With an average of 180 days (6 months) to bloom, and the plants being a bush or short tree-like plant at that time, you will be able to plan for the amount of room and light they will need.
Cotton is categorized as a "tender perennial", it will not survive freezing. Growing it north of zone 8 will require the plants being indoors during the cold season. It can be planted in large containers and moved in for the colder months, and outdoors in the summer.
Below is a photo of seedlings that have been planted for about a week. Other than the one seedling already "up", the seeds are barely visible, poking up through the soil.
Gossypium hirtsutum - brown variety
Below is a photo of another pot of seedlings two weeks after being planted. The soil for these seedlings is a little too dry. Cotton seedlings are sensitive to dry soil, and will wilt very quickly if the soil is allowed to dry out. Keep them evenly moist at all times, but not damp or soggy.
Gossypium hirtsutum - green variety
Below is a photo of cotton seedlings under grow-lights. The seedlings on the left, the tallest, are three weeks old from planting.
Happy growing and spinning your own cotton!
All designs, images, and text, including artwork and photographs (except where noted ) on this site are copyright 2001 - 2013 laeom (Laurie A.E. O'Meara) All Rights Reserved and their use or copying is not allowed without prior written permission. Thank you. :) Images and text that are marked courtesy of, used with permission, "by", or other notation are copyright of the respective person and are also protected.
Please note: The domain name of my former website was laeom.com . It is my understanding that a corporation has now taken that domain name. I am no longer affiliated with the domain name laeom.com.