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How to Grow Flowering Tobacco — Nicotiana

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Nicotiana, commonly called flowering tobacco, produces clusters of tubular-shaped, five-petaled flowers in green, white, cream, and several other colors. Flowers appear from summer to early fall and are long-blooming.

Nicotiana is an upright perennial grown commonly grown as an annual. Most nicotianas have large, oval, mid-green leaves. Some cultivars are a foot and a half tall others tower to 4 feet or more.

Nicotiana is an excellent bedding plant for regions with hot, humid summers. Old-fashioned types close for part of the day and open in the evening with a strong, sweet smell. White varieties are especially attractive at night. New hybrids stay open all day and evening.

Nicotiana is an excellent choice to mass in borders; plant twelve or more plants for a showy display. Nicotiana can also be planted in containers; space close and feed with a liquid fertilizer. Nicotiana is a very good cut flower.

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Nicotiana longiflora

Get to know Nicotiana

  • Plant type: Annual or tender perennial usually grown as a warm-season annual
  • Growing Zones and range: All zones as an annual; Zones 10 and 11 as a perennial
  • Hardiness: Nicotiana is killed by frost; may grow through winter as a perennial in Zones 10-11
  • Height and width: 16 inches (40cm) to more than 4 feet (1.2m) tall and 6 to 10 inches wide, depending on the cultivar
  • Foliage: Large, soft, oval leaves
  • Flowers: Tubular flowers usually flare at the ends into five-pointed lobes; flowers are lightly fragrant
  • Flower colors: White, pink, red, purple, and green
  • Bloom time: Summer in most regions; all year in frost-free regions
  • Uses: Bedding color, containers, cut flowers
  • Common name: Flowering Tobacco
  • Botanical name: Nicotiana spp.
  • Family: Solanaceae
  • Origin: Australia, North America

Where to plant Nicotiana

  • Plant in full sun in Zones 2-3; plant in light shade in other zones.
  • Grow Nicotiana in humus-rich, well-drained soil.
  • Nicotiana prefers a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.

Nicotiana uses

  • Plant tall Nicotiana varieties at the back of a border or near a window where the fragrance can be enjoyed.
  • Compact varieties are a good choice for beds, border fronts, or containers.
Nicotiana sylvestris
Nicotiana sylvestris in bloom.

When to plant Nicotiana

  • Set established Nicotiana in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed.
  • Start seeds indoors 10 weeks before the last frost; in Zones 9 to 11, start seeds in late summer for winter bedding.

Planting and spacing Nicotiana

  • Set plants in the garden after the last frost in spring.
  • Sow seeds 1/8 inch deep in seed starting mix or light potting soil in flat, small pots, or six-packs.
  • Keep seed warm 65° to 85°F (18-29°C); grow under bright sunlight or a few inches below fluorescent light.
  • Sow seeds outdoors 7 to 14 days before the last frost in spring in smoothly prepared soil. Mix seeds with dry sand and plant sparsely without covering them. Do not let the seedbed dry out.
  • Space Nicotiana 10 inches (25cm) or more apart depending on the cultivar.

How to water and feed Nicotiana

  • Nicotiana needs moderate water; keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Fertilize Nicotiana with an all-purpose fertilizer occasionally. Supplement plants with a liquid fertilizer in hot weather.
Many delicate white flowers of Nicotiana alata
Many delicate white flowers of Nicotiana alata

Nicotiana care

  • Mulch around Nicotiana to conserve moisture.
  • Pinch back growth tips to encourage business.
  • Remove spent blooms or cut flowers to prolong blooming.
  • Young plants are liable to attacks from aphids and slugs.

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Nicotiana propagation

  • Sow seeds in early spring indoors.
  • Seeds germinate, uncovered in about 10 to 15 days at 70° to 75°F (21°-24°C).
  • Some varieties readily reseed.
Nicotiana tabacum; this flower appears on the tobacco plant harvested for commercial tobacco use

Nicotiana varieties to grow

  • Nicotiana alata: Species grows 2 to 3 feet tall with large, fragrant white flowers; many garden cultivars have been hybridized with other species from this species; strains include ‘Domino’ that grows 12 to 15 inches tall, ‘Grandiflora’, that is scented, ‘Nicki’ that grows to 18 inches tall, and ‘Sensation’ that grows to 4 feet tall.
  • N. langsdorffii has chartreuse tubular flowers that grow 3 to 5 feet tall and is excellent for cutting; no fragrance.
  • N. sylvestris is a tender perennial that grows to 6 feet tall with long, tubular white blooms that are very fragrant.

Nicotiana frequently asked questions

Q: How do I grow Nicotiana from seed?

A: Sow seeds directly in the garden after all danger of frost has passed, or start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before planting outdoors. Do not cover the seeds; they need light to germinate.

Q: My flowering tobacco plants are poor bloomers. Any suggestions?

A: Nicotiana needs long days to bloom. Sow seeds in spring so that they come to bloom during the long days of summer.

Q: What conditions does Nicotiana favor?

A: Nicotiana wants rich, well-drained soil and full sun. Add aged compost or commercial planting mix to the planting bed ahead of planting. Nicotiana can tolerate summer heat as long as it is well watered and the humidity is high.

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Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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