The Q&A Archives: Using cotton burr compost

Question: A local gin (Taylor Texas) has just begun selling compost made from cotton waste. Would it be safe to use in new raised vegetable beds? Would there be traces of harmful pesticide or herbacide? Would defoliants survive the composting process and have a negative impact on growing vegetables?

Answer: Sallie,

I am sorry for this delayed reply to your gardening question. The spring rush has brought a deluge of questions and we are working hard to catch up!

Good questions. The concern over cotton waste compost has traditionally been regarding its arsenic content because cotton in some areas of the country was defoliated prior to harvesting with sprays containing this element. Arsenic can build up in the soil and can be taken up by plants. Arsenic is no longer allowed for such use and the newer products used for defoliating are quickly biodegradable. The composting process also eliminates other chemicals quite well. Cotton from the Texas high plains is defoliated by the early arrival of frosts there and thus defoliant sprays are generally not needed. A brand made from cotton in that area is Back To Nature Cotton Burr Compost and is sold across the central and southeastern states.

Compost is good for the soil and for growing plants. I would consider your local cotton trash compost to be a good product for improving your gardens. If you want to learn more about the compost being made in your area I would ask them if they have run a complete nutrient analysis on the product and can provide a copy of the results. You can also take a sample and have an analysis done if you like. The state soil lab at A&M can provide such an analysis. Contact your local County Extension Office about how to have this done.

Thanks for the question. Best wishes for a wonderful gardening season. Please stop in again soon!

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