Assuming that your cotton plants were introduced to the soil in mid-March or April, as they are south of the 36th parallel, most of those plants should be ready for harvesting by the end of July. Of course, this assumes that the weather has been relatively stable all summer and that the plants were not subjected to excessive amounts of rain. It matters a great deal where you live in the world when you ask, “When do you harvest cotton?”. In some areas of the world, the seasons are inverted from the way they are in the United States.
Some of the other factors which impact harvesting time are discussed below. Generally speaking, the time necessary for a cotton plant to reach full maturity, with no interruptions, is between 150 and 180 days, regardless of where you’re located. Of course, the specific months that the harvest will be ready is subject to the climate in whatever part of the world you live in. With a little cooperation from the weather and no severe disruption from pests, cotton can be harvested at the end of the 180 days and made into all the wonderful products that people love so much.
When Was the Cotton Planted?
Cotton is generally planted as a harvestable crop as soon as mid-March in the 13 American states, which are primary growers of cotton. By the time June rolls around, all plants have been started in the ground, and the staggered plant times will allow for continuous harvesting until the entire crop is in. Those states are mostly in the southern United States, where rainfall is somewhat plentiful in the springtime and is usually followed by a long period of hot and dry weather, which is also ideal for cotton growth.
In areas outside the U.S., the best time to plant the cotton seeds is right before a somewhat wet season so that the plants can get plenty of water. Then, of course, the plants will need the warmth that will allow the plants to develop and mature properly. If you’re planting cotton seeds indoors, the best time to plant is approximately four weeks prior to the last anticipated date of outdoor frost. As with outdoor planted cotton, the answer to when to harvest cotton will be somewhere around 180 days after planting.
Assess the Health of the Plant
The health of cotton plants can be affected by several factors, and many of these contribute significant stress to the plants. Some of the most common stressors are moisture, pest attacks, temperature, and nutrition. When summer temperatures soar past 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it begins to really affect the cotton plant, and leaf production suffers as well as the creation of carbohydrates. When carbohydrate levels drop, the plant has insufficient sugar levels to satisfy all its needs, and that generally leads to fewer bolls on the plant, as well as less fiber content in each of the seeds.
When night-time temperatures remain high instead of dropping off to a more appropriate 68 degrees, the temperature can have a double whammy on hurting the delicate plants. Moisture also comes into play, because when there is excessive humidity present, it does not allow for plant moisture to evaporate, and for cooling all the components of the plant. If there is too much rainfall present in the summertime, that can have the effect of drowning out the still immature root system of the cotton plants and hinder its growth.
There are two major pests that love to feast on cotton – the boll weevil and the pink bollworm. Boll weevils like to consume the cotton seeds, and its feces has a profoundly negative impact on cotton lint. It severely attacks bolls and flowers, and for that reason, there is a program of eradication underway in the major cotton-growing states. The bolls and flowers are also under siege by the pink bollworm, which generally appears on the plants as a brown and gray colored moth. Its eggs are laid under the calyx of bolls, which are in the developmental stage, and when they hatch, they immediately begin consuming the plant.
Know Your Climate
Cotton is a plant that is native to Central America and the region around the Caribbean. Still, it’s also considered a perennial by the US Department of Agriculture in zones eight through 11. When planted as a harvestable crop, cotton needs a long stretch of very warm weather with periodic irrigation. After that, it also needs relatively dry weather so that the fluffy white cotton balls can become adequately ripened.
When the temperature in any climatic area dips below 60°F, it will be necessary to provide additional heat somehow or to take the plants indoors where heating can be regulated. If you live in an area where springtime is long and autumn advances early, you may have to grow your cotton plants in pots, which can be taken indoors. If you start your plants indoors, you’ll have to wait until you have consistently warm weather before taking the young plants outdoors.