Today, cotton is primarily grown as a commercial crop by large farms. However, some gardeners and small farmers are still opting to grow cotton for fiber artists, ornamental use, and to preserve the genetic diversity and history of heirloom cotton. However, there are a few snags to growing cotton that you should know about before ordering a packet of cotton seeds.
So, is it illegal to grow cotton?
Well, it depends on where you live.
Currently, it is illegal to grow cotton in Texas. We cannot ship cotton seeds to Texas.
In other areas, like here in Virginia, growing cotton is monitored and restricted. You can grow cotton here, but you must apply for a permit before planting. This is common in many Southeastern states and other cotton-producing areas.
Why is cotton growing restricted?
Cotton plantings and residue can spread a destructive pest called the cotton boll weevil, especially when mishandled. In areas where cotton is an economically important crop, the growing of cotton is often carefully monitored to prevent the spread or reintroduction of the boll weevil.
The boll weevil has been eradicated from many cotton-producing states, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
The Texas Department of Agriculture reports that the boll weevil has been nearly eliminated from Texas, which has been an intense and expensive process. Texas currently accounts for almost 50% of U.S. cotton acreage and about 40% of U.S. production. Their strict guidelines are an attempt to keep Texas production competitive.
Where do I find out if I can grow cotton?
Your local extension agency is the best place to get information about growing cotton in your area. If you’re unsure who to contact, you can find a handy list of state extension agencies on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website.
Growing cotton in Virginia
Here in Virginia, the process is quite simple. Download and fill out the ‘Request to Grow Cotton’ form on the Virginia Department of Agriculture website.
Contact your local extension agency if you have more questions about cotton in Virginia.
How do I grow cotton?
Cotton is a long-season annual, so it’s easiest to grow in areas with long, hot summers. You’ll also need a plot that receives full sun and has plenty of space. Cotton plants should be planted 18 to 30 inches apart in rows 5 feet apart. The plants grow 3 to 7 feet tall!
Cotton seed germinates in 7-21 days at 70 degrees F. In zones 8-10, direct sow your cotton seeds after the last frost. Treat cotton like tomatoes in zones 5-7 and start seed indoors. Transplant seedlings out after your last frost when they’re 4 to 8 weeks old.
The plants start flowering in mid-summer, and the bolls take a few more months to mature.
Find out more about why we offer heirloom cotton in our Cotton Growing Guide.
Growing cotton isn’t legal in many areas, but you may need a permit. Knowing what your state requires and acquiring the proper permitting is essential to keeping cotton available to small growers, preventing boll weevil spread, and protecting commercial harvests.