Plants & Growing

How To Grow & Care For Tobacco Plant In The UK

close up of pink flowering tobacco plant
Written by Chris Lee

If you are on the hunt for an ornamental plant that’s a little bit different, then tobacco might be just what you’re looking for.

Tobacco plant, or nicotiana, comes in an array of colours and sizes. Its large, hairy, sticky foliage and stately flower stems feature elongated, trumpet-shaped blooms, making it a real eye-catcher. It’s great for bringing structure and texture to sunny borders and beds.

This stately plant’s elegant flowers, which appear in summer and autumn, open up in late afternoon and early evening and exude a sweet, heady scent. As a result, it’s an ideal candidate if you are looking for plants to surround your patio or decking. Some varieties even attract moths.

tobacco plant flowers with plants in background
Tobacco plants or elegant and eye-catching

Tobacco plants bring an aristocratic charm to your garden. It’s an excellent option for container and hanging basket displays, and many varieties make beautiful cut flowers. The Royal Horticulture Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

What are tobacco plants?

Tobacco is the common name of several plants in the Nicotiana genus and nightshade family. There are more than 70 known species, and the more potent varieties are grown commercially to be used for cigarettes, cigars, pipes and shishas. It can also be consumed in the form of snuff, chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco and snus.

However, aside from its commercial use, tobacco is also a popular plant among gardeners thanks to its unique beauty and punchy, fragrant aroma. Tobacco plants flower prolifically and with longevity and are cheap and easy to grow.

Types of tobacco plants

As previously mentioned, there are over 70 species of tobacco plants, with annual, biennial, perennial and shrub varieties. The long, tubular flowers open in a star-like shape and come in shades of red, yellow, green, purple, pink and white.

With the much-needed height they provide and the choice of colours, it’s no wonder this plant is so popular. We have picked out some of our favourite varieties to help you find the perfect one for your garden.

Nicotiana alata “Lime green”

Topping our list of tobacco plants is the Nicotiana alata “lime green”. This variety is an erect annual that can grow up to a metre in height and half a metre in spread. As the name would suggest, its flowers are lime green in colour. During the day the flowers wilt, but in the early evening they get a second wind and emit a pretty, potent fragrance which is irresistible to moths (as well as most humans!)

Green flowering tobacco plant
Nicotiana alata is well-loved by moths and gardeners alike

Nicotiana alata “lime green” plants grow best in moist, well-drained, fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. With its stunning aroma, this tobacco plant is perfect for patio containers and urban courtyards where you can sit on balmy evenings and enjoy its seductive scent.

Nicotiana alata “domino crimson”

This vigorous, short-lived perennial has large, funnel-shaped, crimson blooms and, like the lime green variety, emits a delicious scent making it another moth magnet.

The nicotiana alata “domino crimson” grows to around 60cm in height and spreads to around 30cm in width. It makes a great addition to herbaceous borders as well as large patio containers, and also makes a fabulous cut flower.

This variety of tobacco plant grows best in a sheltered spot, in full sun, dappled shade or partial shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. If planted in pots or containers, it will require regular watering.

Nicotiana sylvestris

This tall species of tobacco plant can grow to heights of 1.5 metres and is a fantastic cut and border flower. Its long, white, intensely scented trumpet flowers hang elegantly from stout stems, and the leaves are large also have a gorgeous aroma.

Nicotiana sylvestris thrives in fertile, neutral, well-drained soil and does best in full sun or partial shade. Picking the flowers will encourage lateral growth and prolong flowering.

This tobacco plants lofty height makes it an excellent subject for borders, and this impactful variety is one of the most popular among gardeners.

Nicotiana langsdorffii

Nicotiana langsdorffi grows in swathes, making it great for the backs of herbaceous borders or for breaking up perennials. It grows to around 90cm in height, spreads up to 30cm in width, and it’s greenish-yellow flowers bear conspicuous blue pollen which is extremely attractive to pollinators.

This species prefers moist, well-drained soil and will do well in full sun or partial shade. It is a cut and comes again variety; by cutting the flowers back, you will encourage growth and prolong the flowering window which can last from June right through to October.

This popular variety deserves its high reputation. As a colour rarely found outside the tobacco plant family, the chartreuse flowers will add a distinctive ingredient to your garden’s palette, and will complement just about any planting scheme.

Nicotiana ‘whisper mixed’

This is another variety that is perfect for the backs of borders thanks to its height of 90cm and spread of 45cm. Nicotiana ‘whisper mixed’ plants sport silver-green foliage and delicate little star-shaped flowers that bloom in muted shades of whites and pinks.

As with most tobacco plants, this variety thrives in moist, well-drained soil and full sun or partial shade. Its exquisite fragrance has a little less clout than other varieties, but is delightful nonetheless.

By day, butterflies are particularly attracted to this species thanks to its nectar-rich blooms. Then, by dusk, you can watch moths flitting about, attracted to the plants’ sweet scent.

How to grow tobacco

Now that you’ve got the low down on tobacco plants, no doubt you are keen to incorporate these beauties into your garden. These plants are easy to grow from seed and even easier to maintain, making them perfect for gardeners at any level.

You can sow nicotiana seeds in March, and they will be ready to flower in summer. It’s best to start them in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill, then allowing them to acclimatise outside before planting them in your chosen spot.

Simply fill a tray with compost, sow a few seeds in each cell, cover with vermiculite and water.

When the seeds have germinated and have two pairs of leaves transplant each one into a 7cm pot in multi-purpose compost. Water the seedlings well and place them back on the windowsill.

When the risk of frost has passed, you can place the plants outside, taking them in at night. After a week you can then plant them in the garden. Make sure they have moist, well-drained soil and are in full sun or partial shade.

Tobacco care tips

As mentioned, tobacco plants are extremely low maintenance but there a few things to keep in mind when caring for them.

Water

Tobacco plants thrive in consistently moist soil, so check the top inch of soil regularly and water when necessary. Once plants are established, they can tolerate drier conditions, but regular watering is still advised.

plants sprouting from soil and being watered from can
Help tobacco plants thrive by watering regularly

Fertiliser

Nicotiana plants love rich, fertile soil as this gives them the nourishment they need to produce their beautiful flowering displays.

Once planted, we recommend feeding immediately with balanced, organic fertiliser and then continue to feed monthly throughout the growing season.

Pruning

The only necessary pruning is deadheading, and by removing the spent flowers, you will encourage extended blooming. If you want your tobacco plant to self-seed, then stop deadheading near the end of the flowering season.

Toxicity

It is essential to mention that all tobacco plants, including ornamental varieties, contain nicotine which is toxic to both humans and animals. It’s quite unusual for this plant to be ingested accidentally, but if you have pets or small children, we advise that you supervise them when they are in close proximity to this plant.

These plants can also cause skin irritation, so we highly recommend wearing gloves when handling them.

Add a touch of class to your garden

Tobacco plants add a real touch of class to your garden. They are stylish and sophisticated and never go out of fashion.

These plants are also both so easy and so rewarding to grow and maintain, and their gorgeous scent is second to none. With so many varieties to choose from we are quite sure you will have no trouble finding the perfect tobacco plant for you.

About the author

Chris Lee

Chris is interested in nature and the good things that happen when people are in it. He is a freelance writer, with writing published about cycling, green living, and ways to make a difference without fundamentally restructuring your lifestyle.

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