Cotton Links


Healthy Seedlings Require Patience

By Amanda Huber
Southeast Editor

Patience isn’t just a virtue in cotton production. It’s vital. Waiting until cover crop residues are fully decomposed, soil temperatures are warm enough and soil moisture is adequate isn’t always easy for the producer anxious to get the season started.

But planting too early is stacking the deck against having a vigorous, healthy crop.

Charles Davis, Cooperative Extension agent for Calhoun, Orangeburg and Richland counties in South Carolina, says producers should be wary of planting too early.

“In my counties, we’ve gone to strip-till, and when you leave a lot of residue on the ground, it acts like a blanket and keeps the soil from warming,” Davis says. “In strip-till situations, producers should plan to plant cotton a little later.”

He says planting into cooler soils puts stress on the seedlings, and seedlings that are stressed are more likely to suffer from disease. However, he’s been in the business long enough to know producers.

“When Joe starts planting, then Henry sees it and starts planting too, then Fred starts. Nobody wants to think that someone else is getting the jump on them,” Davis says. “At times, there may be one field that is ready, but another field is not.”

Wait On Warm Soils

In addition to warm soils, adequate soil moisture is another factor in achieving a good stand. David Wright, University of Florida cotton Extension specialist, says once the germination process starts, you want the seed to go ahead and germinate quickly.

“With cotton, I am really concerned about having good soil moisture to get the crop up,” Wright says. “But, you don’t want heavy rains either because that will pack in the soil, making a crust that the cotton seedling has to break through.”

Wright also cautions producers against planting into anything green.

“If they plant into green residue, and it is decomposing while the seedling is also there trying to grow, then the decomposing matter will readily bring disease,” he says.

In fields with a history of seedling disease, Wright says producers should consider additional fungicides to protect the crop. A soil insecticide to protect seedlings from thrips, which can cause stunting, is also a consideration.

“Most growers would prefer not to handle the insecticide application, and cotton seed companies will put a fungicide and insecticide on the seed to protect the crop after germination,” he says. “Of course, the seed needs to have the genetic technology present.”

Uniformity A Goal, But Not Critical

Wright says producers want uniformity in the crop, but it is not as critical as it is in peanuts, where Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus flourishes around bare spots in the crop.

Davis adds that cotton plants are pretty good at taking up the slack between plants.

“When you can take a step from one plant to another, then you will probably want to leave it,” he says. “Big gaps may require you to replant.”

At times, Wright says, producers become concerned that they may have a problem, but then it gets to the point where the stem is hardened off, and diseases are no longer a problem.

“The first two or three weeks are the most critical for seedling health,” Wright says. “After that, it is established. Then there’s weed control and other things to be concerned about.”

Contact Amanda Huber at (352) 486-7006 or ahuber@onegrower.com.

How Can You Prevent Seedling Disease?

• Plant when four-inch soil temperature is above 65 degrees, and the five-day forecast
  remains warm.
• Plant on a raised bed, which offers warmer soil and better drainage.
• Avoid planting seed too deeply.
• Correct soil pH with lime; pH should be in the range of 6.0 to 6.5.
• Fertilize according to soil test to promote rapid seedling growth; avoid “burning” the seedling.
• Avoid chemical injury by excessive amounts or improper application of insecticides,
  fungicides or pre-plant herbicides.
• Plant only high quality, treated seed.
• Consider additional fungicides when there is a history of seedling disease.

Source: Georgia Cooperative Extension Service


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