Purple ornamental cotton is a showstopper. It bears rich purple heart-shape leaves and delicate hibiscuslike flowers in a soft, creamy pink color. If pollinated, the plant will develop purple cotton bolls filled with white cotton. Although ornamental cotton resembles its agricultural cousin, this version offers more color and a refined growing habit. This annual is tough to find; search out seed sources through online retailers.
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It's illegal to grow ornamental cotton in many cotton-producing states. Destructive boll weevils can take up residence and reproduce in a home-garden planting, threatening acres of agricultural cotton grown nearby. If you garden in a cotton-producing state, check with your local extension service before planting ornamental cotton. Some states offer permits for growing cotton in a residential setting.
Ornamental Cotton Care Must-Knows
Cotton thrives in long, hot growing seasons when planted in rich, well-drained soil and full sun. Site it in an area that receives at least 8 hours of bright sun a day. If drainage is an issue, plant cotton in a raised bed or container where you can better control soil make-up.
In cool climates, start cotton seeds inside 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in your area. Plant three seeds in a 4- to 6-inch-diameter pot and water well. After seedlings emerge, water plants regularly and place the pot in a bright, sunny window. Transplant the strongest seedling into a container garden or directly into garden soil as soon as the outdoor soil temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ornamental Cotton Varieties
'Red Foliated' cotton
Gossypium hirsutum 'Red Foliated' cotton features stems and leaves that are a striking shade of cranberry. Its pink-to-cherry red flowers produce small tufts of white cotton. This variety grows 3 to 4 feet tall.
Plant Cotton with
Dusty miller is a favorite because it looks good with everything. The silvery-white color is a great foil for any type of garden blossom and the fine-textured foliage creates a beautiful contrast against other plants' green foliage. Dusty miller has also earned its place in the garden because it's delightfully easy to grow, withstanding heat and drought like a champion.
Like so many grasses, fountaingrass is spectacular when backlit by the rising or setting sun. Named for its especially graceful spray of foliage, fountaingrass also sends out beautiful, fuzzy flower plumes in late summer. The white, pink, or red plumes (depending on variety) continue into fall and bring a loose, informal look to plantings. This plant self-seeds freely, sometimes to the point of becoming invasive.
It's amazing that the tall, dramatic spider flower is only an annual. Once temperatures warm up, it zooms to 4 feet or more plants very quickly and produces large balls of flowers with fascinating long seedpods that whirl out from it. Cut it for vases, but be aware that the flowers shatter easily after a few days. It typically self-seeds prolifically, so you only have to plant it once. Because it develops surprisingly large thorns, it's best to keep spider flower away from walkways.Plant established seedlings in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Cleome does best in moderately rich, well-drained soil. Be careful about fertilizing or you'll have extremely tall floppy plants. Group in clusters of 6 or more for best effect.