Backyard fiber plants: Cotton

I have always loved weaving with cotton, done some dyeing and wanted to learn to spin it. Growing it also seemed to fit in there someplace. With my usual cart-before-the-horseness I started growing cotton before I was actually able to manage the spinning part. Brown grew ok, the green kept dying off but the white, aparantly Pima cotton took off enthuastically.

2008 cotton, a 2nd year plant.

2nd year Pima cotton shrub Pima cotton boll

Rita Buchanan’s Weavers Garden lists 150–180 frost-days and 80’-100’ F as required for cotton growing, which is pretty well covered in southern California. Any bolls that don’t finish opening I bring in the house and leave out on the stove or someplace warm and they open up a few days later.

Cotton2008_06 Cotton2008_07

I’ve frequently heard the question about wheter cotton is an annual or bi-annual. I don’t know the official answer on this one. Some years ago the Fall 1996 (vol. XX, no.3) issue of Spin-off published an article by Mary Frances Eves, “All from one plant” which among other things describes cotton plants she let continue from year to year until they became trees that she “had to harvest with a ladder” (Spin-off, p.49). This sounded interesting so I let some plants go to see what would happen.

What happened was the “shrubs” became trees, had to be harvested by ladder, overgrew the clothes line and a good chunk of the garden before they had to be chopped down (by my long suffering partner who kept making references to some or other episode of Dr. Who that involved a town-eating plant that was the “size of a cathedral” or something along those lines). I’m still not sure of the official answer to the annual/bi-annual question but left to themselves my own plants seem to be able to coninue from year to year.

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