When to Plant Cotton?

Written by

William Golder


Dorian Goodwin

when to plant cotton

As with most other crops, when trying to decide when to plant cotton, the correct answer depends on the hardiness zone. But generally speaking, February to March is the best time.

The section below provides a zone-wise breakdown of the dates. We will also provide tips on how to cultivate this plant.

When to Plant Cotton?


The simple answer is spring, between February and May. Cotton can be planted or transplanted outdoors directly after the last frost.

If you live in zone 5 to 7 and not zone 8 or higher, I recommend growing cotton in containers indoors one to two months before the final frost, then move the seedlings outdoors once the weather’s no longer freezing.

Refer to the table below to better understand the best times for planting cotton.

Hardiness zones Cotton Planting Time Planting location
Zone 5 February 10 to March 5 Indoors
Zone 6 February 4 to February 25 Indoors
Zone 7 January 25 to February 6 Indoors
Zone 8 March 14 to March 29 Outdoors
Zone 9 February 7 to March 1 Outdoors
Zone 10 Pretty much any time Outdoors

It is difficult to grow cotton in Northern states because of late and frequent frosts. Hence the table above only mentions regions from zone 5 and up.

Since climate varies every year, it’s best to know the ideal cotton planting season and requirements to satisfy if needed.

1. Soil temperature requirement


Many people refer to air temperatures to determine the ideal cotton planting time. However, the soil temperature is a better gauge, since it directly affects germination.

A temperature above 65°F is required to germinate cotton seeds, with the ideal limit being 80°F. Problems arise if the temperature is below 58°F.

Get something like a Digital Plant Temperature/Soil Moisture Test Meter to measure soil temperature and moisture level. When the temperature is right and the soil is wet, it’s best to plant cotton.

2. Cotton type


Two cotton species are primarily grown in the United States, namely upland cotton and pima cotton. Their planting times can vary because they need slightly different conditions for planting.

In fact, Pima seeds may go into the ground three weeks earlier than upland cotton if you live somewhere cold.

Cotton type Ideal soil temperature for planting Time to maturity
Upland cotton 70°F – 80°F 150 days
Pima cotton 68°F-90°F 135 to 145 days

Why Does Cotton Need a Warmer Climate?


All the dates mentioned above are during warmer times of the year. But, have you wondered why it’s best to plant cotton during such times?

1. Higher germination rate

Soil temperature below 60°F will reduce the cotton germination rate. Simultaneously, it is not advisable to plant cotton seeds during peak summer because if the temperature goes above 100°F, plant growth would be affected.

2. Better harvest

Sticking to the early range of the above cotton planting dates ensures cotton gets 60 degrees F temperature for 5 to 6 months, leading to a better harvest. It ensures that the mature cotton crop isn’t affected by bad weather right before harvest.

Tips for Successful Cotton Cultivation


The tips listed below can further aid the growth of cotton.

  1. Add a generous amount of compost.

Cotton seeds need well-drained, loose, compost-rich (in the first few inches) soil. The planting location should also be weed-free and with full sun.

  1. Ensure proper spacing.

Irrespective of whether you grow cotton in Georgia, in Texas, or in North Carolina, cotton crops should have a 30 to 40-inch spacing between rows. Anything less can result in early maturity, affecting the yield.

  1. Choose the right fertilizer

A fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 20-10-10 is a good choice for cotton, since it needs double the quantity of nitrogen compared to other nutrients during planting and flowering.

  1. Ensure it’s legal

Growing cotton at home, in the backyard, or in gardens is illegal in many states, like North Carolina, South Carolina, and California, due to the fear of the spread of boll weevils. Commercialized cotton growing is allowed in these states.

What is the Cotton Plant Life Cycle?


The growth stages for cotton include:

  1. Germination (5 to 10 days)
  2. Leave development (from the second week onwards)
  3. Bud development – 5th to 7th week
  4. Flowers appearing – 8th to 10th week
  5. Pollination and flowers’ death
  6. Boll appearing
  7. The development of cotton fibers or plant maturity


If you are wondering when to plant cotton, just refer to the table above. Sticking to these planting dates increases the probability of a good yield. The post above even covers what to do to ensure adequate growing conditions.

With a zone-wise breakdown of cotton planting dates discussed above, nothing is left to chance.

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