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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 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 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 deep and four inches 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 or so from the top. Place about three cotton seeds on top of the soil and then cover with another inch 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.
Uses of a Cotton Plant
The cotton plant is best known for producing soft, washable fiber, which outsells all others--including man-made fibers--in the United States. But other parts of the plant are also used for various purposes. According to CottonInc.com, cotton has been cultivated for about 7,000 years, and evidence suggests it existed in Egypt as far back as 12,000 B.C. In the United States, the cotton belt spans 17 southern states from Virginia to California, where farmers glean as much use out of plants as they can.
Pruning Cotoneaster Plants
Cotoneasters can be propagated with softwood cuttings taken in early summer.
The use of a rooting hormone is highly recommended.
Low growing species can be propagated by simple layering in the fall. Pin a low growing stem to the ground, using a piece of stiff wire bent into a U, leaving the last 6 to 12 inches of the stem exposed. Cover the pinned area with soil, then bend the tip sharply into a vertical position (for upright plants) and nick the bark on the underside of the bend. Provide a stake to hold it in place. Once the layer is well rooted, it can be severed from the parent and moved to another part of the garden.
Birds are by far the biggest propagator of Cotoneasters as they spread the seeds of the berries they've eaten. When the berries become soft and mushy, the birds will no longer eat them and they eventually fall to the ground where they germinate. These seedlings can be transplanted very easily up until they have grown a foot tall.
Ripe seeds can be sown directly in the garden in the fall.
Squares (flower buds) develop several weeks after the plant starts to grow, before flowers appear a few weeks later. The flowers then drop, leaving a ripening seed pod that produces fruit, known as bolls, after pollination.
On irrigated cotton farms, the initial irrigation (watering) is usually followed by several additional irrigations at two-to-three week intervals (depending on soil type and weather conditions) from mid-December to late-February. This differs depending on the region, average seasonal temperatures and soil type.
Approximately four months is needed for the cotton bolls to ripen and split open.
Growers protect their crops from pests during this period using Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation defines IPM as "the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment.”
Growers conserve beneficial insects (natural enemies to pests), and manage their natural resources to help suppress pests, which is at the heart of IPM.
The use of biotechnology in cotton has made a significant contribution to the dramatic reduction in insecticides applied to Australian cotton crops. There has been a 97% decrease in insecticide use since 1992, coinciding with the introduction of Bt cotton and strong IPM. The Australian cotton industry’s Environmental Toxic Load (ETL) for bees decreased by 18.2% from 11 to 9 in the four years to 2018.
Problems Associated with Croton Growth and Ways to Prevent Them
Unless the plant is taken care of properly, it may develop quite a few pests and diseases. Here are some problems you should be well aware of when growing the plant:
While inadequate sunlight causes the leaves to remain green, too much of it causes fading of the colors. Make sure your plant receives the required amount of sunlight to prevent such problems.
Your plant may display curled leaves as a result of over-fertilization. So, stick to the normal fertilizing schedule as mentioned earlier to avoid excessive feeding.
Spider mites, causing yellow spots on the leaves, can be a common pest for plants grown indoors. They are often not easily detected due to the natural splashy markings on the leaves. Maintain high humidity levels inside your house to prevent this. Rubbing the leaves with a moist paper towel removes the spider mites as well as prevents further infestation.
Your leaves may often be infested with mealy bugs, causing extreme damage to the plant. Dab the leaves with a cotton ball dipped in isopropyl alcohol to kill the bugs. If several leaves have been attacked, get rid of them with a heavy stream of water mixed with neem oil/insecticidal soap.
Croton caterpillars, eating away the leaves of your plant can be a huge problem. Application of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticide liquids is effective as it contains the bacterium Bt that helps in killing those caterpillars. The method works better when applied during the spring.
As a general method of elimination and prevention of a pest attack, regularly clean the leaves with organic neem insecticide oil.
Edema is a common problem caused when the roots absorb water beyond their capacity, leading to blistering of leaves. Reduce watering until the blistering subsides, and avoid overwatering to prevent it.
Crown gall is a bacterial condition of the plant characterized by swollen growths on the veins and stems of the plant. Use a pruning sealer to cut off such growths. However, the problem may recur since the bacteria come from the soil. So, re-potting could be a more effective solution.
Damp leaves are often subjected to powdery mildew that appears as white powdery deposits all over the leaves. Rubbing a mild solution of neem oil regularly on the leaves should keep it under control. Watering the base of the plant instead of spraying the leaves may help prevent this problem.