Cotton Planting and Emergence-Southeast

Striving to produce the best cotton crop begins even before the seed touches the soil. Planting is a critical time for cotton production and careful evaluation of all factors can help in establishing a healthy, uniform cotton stand.

Ideally, seedbeds are moist and warm. Good seed-to-soil contact is essential for initial water uptake. Once the seed is planted, it takes 80 to 100 heat units for emergence. In most regions, emergence will normally take between seven to ten days under favorable temperatures. The following simple guidelines can help to increase the probability of a successful cotton crop.

Items to Consider When Planting Cotton

Weed Management: Growers may be facing emergence or young seedling development issues due to the difficulty in controlling glyphosate-resistant weed populations. One management option for controlling glyphosateresistant weeds is to rely on soil residual herbicides for preventative control. Prior to the increased pressure from glyphosate-resistance, weeds were controlled in Genuity® Roundup Ready® Flex cotton with in-season applications of glyphosate up to seven days before harvest. On some farms, glyphosate may have been the only herbicide used for weed control as it is cost effective, flexible for application timing, and did not injure cotton plants.

With increased glyphosate resistance, growers must utilize residual herbicides to help control weeds. Residual herbicides must be applied at the correct timing and all plant back restrictions must be followed. Residual herbicides can injure cotton plants when not applied at the correct rate or timing. Visual symptoms of herbicide injury may be apparent, but some injury may go unnoticed until yields are less than expected at harvest. Always read and follow all herbicide labels. Residual herbicides may increase weed management costs, but may be a necessary expense for a successful cotton crop.

There are multiple residual herbicides that may be applied pre-emergence to cotton. Included are:

  • Reflex®
  • Caparol®
  • Direx®4L
  • Cotton Pro®
  • Cotoran®4L
  • Treflan®

Always read and follow pesticide label directions.

Planting Depth: Cotton seed should be planted 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches into the soil depending on the soil texture and available moisture. The seed should be placed where moisture is available for germination. In sandy soil the seed should be placed into moisture; however, under dry conditions growers must be careful not to plant too deep. While moisture is essential for germination, planting deeper than recommended depths to “chase moisture” may result in the seedling running out of stored food prior to emergence. If conditions are too dry, it may be best to delay planting until conditions improve.

Planting Rate: In recent years, lower cotton planting rates are being used in the Southeast. Cutting seeding rates can increase the risk of skippy stands, which is more likely to result in replanting when emergence is poor. It is unrealistic to plant with the same seed drop rate as the desired final stand, leaving no margin for error. If environmental conditions are not ideal during emergence and seedling stages, the final stand may not be satisfactory and yield potential could be reduced. According to the University of Georgia, growers should aim for a final stand of 2 to 3 plants/ft row, meaning planters should be calibrated to deliver 2.5 to 4 seeds/ft on dryland acres and 2 to 3 seeds/ft in irrigated acres1. Reducing seeding rates below 2.5 seeds/ft can increase the chance of poor stand establishment and cause adverse effects on cotton canopy, especially if environmental conditions are not suitable during stand establishment. Skippy stands in cotton may reduce yield potential, delay crop maturity, and can increase weed pressure if sunlight is allowed to penetrate through the canopy.

Use of a combination of pre-emerge soil residual herbicides may reduce the surviving cotton stand and require an increase in planting rate. If planting under challenging conditions with an aggressive herbicide program (especially on sandy soils), increase the planting rate to improve the opportunity for an acceptable stand.