How to Grow Cotton
This page may contain affiliate links. Learn More.
You can learn how to grow cotton in your garden and it’s pretty simple to do. We grew cotton in the preschool garden to learn how clothing is made. Check out this month by month garden guide for growing too.
When I was a teenager my mom was into textiles and spinning. She grew cotton to use for spinning her own cotton yarn. We helped her grow it and harvest it and comb it. It was really fun to see how it went from plant to fabric. I loved the idea of doing this with my kids.
Click here to see how to garden with kids.
Cotton plant facts for kids
The cotton plant looks kind of like an okra plant. It loves the heat, so you plant it when you would plant okra. Here that is the end of April or early May. The plant is gorgeous and has the most amazing flowers. They are beautiful.
Learning how to grow cotton is not difficult. Here in Oklahoma, we have plenty of heat to grow it. You’ll need a lot of warm weather. Cotton doesn’t mind drought at all either.
How long does it take to grow cotton
It takes most of the summer to grow cotton and it ripens in the fall. The pods are hard and woody, so when you pick it, be careful not to cut your fingers. It’s killer on the cuticles. Enough so that I remember it from so long ago when I was a teen.
Grow your own cotton plant
You need a long growing season to grow cotton, so make sure you’re area is warm enough. It takes several months. You’ll need around 200 days of warm weather. With our 8 months of summer per year in Oklahoma, we have that covered! Also, cotton is protected, so check your laws to see if it’s legal to grow cotton in your state. You may need special permission.
Choose a sunny area that receives at least 8 hours of sunlight per day.
How to plant cotton seeds
Cotton seeds come with fuzzy cotton on them, it’s impossible to remove it all. Plant your fuzzy bundle about 1 knuckle deep in the soil. Cover it with soil and pat it down no harder than you would rub your eye. Plant seeds about 4 inches apart.
Keep your cotton plant watered about once a week. It’s very drought and heat resistant. Make sure you keep the weeds away from the cotton plant. Once the plant is about 4-6 inches tall, mulch it well.
It takes 5-10 days for the cotton seeds to germinate. Then in a few weeks you’ll notice the plant starting to branch off. Several weeks later you’ll see these bolls start to form.
Growing cotton for spinning
When the pods are ripe, they pop open like a big kernel of popcorn, you take the cotton balls out and collect them. Each one is full of big hard seeds that are impossible to remove. That’s why you take them to the cotton gin. It removes the seeds for you. We are going to send our cotton to OSU to have it ginned. Then we will spin it.
How to grow cotton from seed
This is a super fun project to do with kids of any age. I am still enamored with it at my age. I hope you would consider growing some textiles to see how they grow. It’s an amazing process. Make sure it’s legal in your area before growing cotton. There are some places that don’t allow it.
Where to buy cotton seeds
Click here to get your cotton seeds so you can grow your own.
Once you have your cotton picked, you can comb or card it with cotton combs. I found these antique ones on Etsy, but you can buy them brand new also. You cannot remove the seeds from the cotton by hand, the combs lengthen the fiber and remove the seeds.
If you want cotton cards, you can buy the ones we used here on Etsy. You can buy seeds the kids harvested from our plants on Etsy here.
How to spin cotton by hand
The cotton can then be spun on a spinning wheel, with a drop spindle or by hand. I spun a small amount to show the kids how it could be made into yarn. They tried to spin it, but it’s pretty hard to do. A great learning experience though. They could learn with lots of practice.
Growing cotton in your backyard
Teaching kids where their clothing comes from is an amazing experience. I was even amazed myself!
How to grow:
We grow colored cotton in a wine barrel at home – green and brown. The staple is short but I’ve managed so spin it.
Love doing this!
How fun. Thanks for sharing that with me. Do you spin with a wheel or by hand or drop spindle? So exciting!
I have been around cotton all my life being from the south you mention to check an se if you could grow cotton where you live an said it was ilegel where in the world it it not lawful to grow cotton ??
Some places in the south restrict people from growing cotton unless they are commercial growers in order to control disease. I’m not sure which areas, I just know there are a few. Thanks for asking and for checking out the article.
We have short hot summers. So you know how long a season is needed? Ours is about 90 days
Most cotton takes 120-180 frost free days to mature. Thanks for asking.
I’d love to do this but fear my Normandy garden would just be too cold – even in the polytunnel! What a great thing for children to do though, so they can connect their clothes with the plants they come from. A great post to add to the #GoingGreen linky and I hope you can link up to the next one that opens on June 5th.
Thanks for checking it out. I’m sure you’re probably right about it being too cold, these plants do love the heat. 🙂
When I started spinning, I knew it wouldn’t be so easy to spin but it was always at the back of my mind. Now, it might be the perfect time to plant it and wait for the puffs to show up later. I wonder…..as fine the cotton can be and in a way as fine as alpaca, I have a box picker to use for the alpaca. I wonder if it might help to get the seeds out of the cotton. One way to put it to a test is to just do it! Gads….I need to do this.
I’m sure you’d have lots of fun trying it. Do you spin on a wheel or drop spindle?
Simply put….no. I don’t use a wheel or a drop spindle much of the time. If cotton probably would use a supported spindle. Rest of the time, I use an Ashford espinner. Nice compact tool with no need to use feet or legs.
ooo, i’ve never heard of that. How interesting!
Hi Christina, I thought you might like to know that cotton seeds can be removed by hand. It is hard work but that is how it was done until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Thanks for post I too have worked with kids and cotton it is a very rewarding experience.
Wonderful ideas & helpful, too!
Thank you so much!