How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Nicotiana

Nicotiana flowering tobacco is a beautiful flower to add to your garden or into container arrangements. The trumpet-shaped flowers come in many colors, and the smell is intoxicating. Certified master gardener Laura Elsner will walk you through how to grow nicotiana.

A close-up captures the pink Nicotiana flowers amidst lush green leaves. The delicate petals gracefully unfold, catching the warm rays of sunlight as they bask in nature's embrace, showcasing their beauty and serenity.


Nicotiana consists of a few species and many varieties of ornamental flowers. While they are related to tobacco plants, they are grown for their beautiful flowers.

The trumpet-shaped flowers grow in clusters on the plants. They come in various shades of red and pink, purple, and white. The flowers are fragrant, especially in the evenings. They are generally grown as annuals in gardens. In USDA zones 10-11, they are short-lived perennials.  

Nicotiana flower tobacco is a popular choice for gardeners because of its lovely flowers and fragrance. They make great bedding annuals as well as container plants. When grown in their ideal conditions, they are a fairly easy plant to maintain and grow.


A pale pink Nicotiana flower blooms beautifully, standing out amidst green buds. The blurred background reveals a backdrop of greenery, enhancing the delicate allure of the solitary flower in focus.
Nicotiana encompasses tender perennial or annual plants native to South America.
Plant Type Tender perennial/annual
Family Solanaceae
Genus Nicotiana
Species sp. (alata, sylvestris)
Soil Type Rich, well-drained
Native area South America
Hardiness Zone USDA 6-11 (species dependent)
Season Summer
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Attracts Pollinators
Plant Spacing 12”-18”
Planting Depth To the crown
Height Variety dependent 
Watering requirements moderate
Pests and Diseases Tobacco hornworm, aphids, powdery mildew, tobacco mosaic virus

Plant History

pretty white and pink flowers cluster on a tall plant.
Nicotiana was historically used in South America for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.

The Nicotiana genus was named after Jean Nicot, a French ambassador to Portugal who introduced tobacco to the French Court in the 16th century. 

Nicotiana flowering tobacco’s history goes back even further to its native region in South America. It was used traditionally for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.

Today, it is grown as an ornamental plant with gorgeous flowers and a lovely jasmine scent.


A close-up of a nicotiana plant reveals green leaves and delicate pale yellow flowers, highlighting its botanical elegance. The intricate details of the foliage and blossoms capture the plant's natural beauty and grace in full bloom.
The plant offers diverse scented flowers in different plant sizes and shapes.

Flowering tobacco is part of the genus Nicotiana. Within that genus, there are a few different species that are known as flowering tobacco.  Nicotiana alata is probably the most well-known species. It features smaller plants covered in stalks of scented flowers.

Nicotiana sylvestris is another species of flowering tobacco. It is a large plant with clusters of long narrow trumpet-shaped flowers that droop downwards. There are other species of flowering tobacco, including sanderae, mutabilis, and langsdorfii, to name a few. There are also many varieties, hybrids, and cultivars within the different species.


Nicotiana can be purchased as a plant or grown from seed. Let’s examine both of these options.


A close-up reveals a black sack filled with rich, dark soil, fostering tiny nicotiana seedlings. Behind it, numerous seedlings thrive in similar black sacks, hinting at a burgeoning garden or nursery awaiting growth and nurturing.
These plants are available in garden centers and nurseries after frost danger.

Nicotiana plants can be found in your local garden centers and nurseries after the danger of frost has passed in your area and the bedding plants arrive.

Choose healthy-looking plants with healthy foliage. I always take a quick look underneath the pot to see if there is a mat of roots coming out the bottom. This means the plant is rootbound. While you do want your plants to have a strong, healthy root system, too many tightly wound roots mean the plants will struggle once they are planted.


Nicotiana's slender brown branches bear clusters of brown seed pods, showcasing the plant's reproductive stage. The blurred backdrop elegantly highlights the vibrant green leaves, providing context to the botanical scene.
Starting nicotiana from seed can be done by sowing them directly outdoors.

Growing nicotiana from seed is fairly simple and will save you money. You can start them directly by sowing the seeds outside. Or, you can start them inside and then transplant them out into the garden.

Direct sow your seeds into the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Sprinkle the speed onto evenly moist soil (to learn more about the soil type they prefer, read the how-to-grow section below). Lightly cover them by raking them gently with your hand. These seeds need at least 12 hours of light to germinate. Keep them evenly moist. Once they emerge as seedlings, you will probably need to thin them out. The seeds are so tiny you will inevitably plant too many. You will want to space them 12-18” apart.

You can opt to get a head start on your flowers by starting them indoors. This is a great idea for gardeners in lower zones who have fewer frost-free days. Start your seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost date in your area. 

Start by sprinkling your seeds into seed trays that have evenly moist seed starting mix in them. Place a plastic lid or dome of some kind on them to help retain the moist environment. Then, place them somewhere that has bright but indirect sunlight.

Once the frost has passed, they will be ready to plant outside. Make sure to harden off your plants before transplanting them outside. This process will accustom your plants to the outdoors.


Nicotiana leaves soak up the warm sunlight, showcasing a lush greenery. The textured surfaces of the leaves create a visually captivating scene, enhanced by a glossy finish that adds a touch of elegance to the foliage.
Nicotiana leaves soak up the warm sunlight, showcasing a lush greenery. The textured surfaces of the leaves create a visually captivating scene, enhanced by a glossy finish that adds a touch of elegance to the foliage.

Planting nicotiana is easy, and the process should be kept simple since you may be planting a lot of them in your garden. Take your garden trowel and dig a hole. Make sure the soil is moist. It makes it easier to dig and easier for the plant to establish.

Remove the nicotiana from its pot. If the roots are in the same shape as the pot, crack them. I just take my hands and split the roots apart. Plant your nicotiana to the crown of the plant (where the stem meets the roots). Once you are finished planting your nicotiana, water them all in. Do not fertilize at this time. They need a chance to establish before fertilizer is necessary.

Avoid planting them in straight rows. Even if you are planting them as a border. Staggering them a bit will make them look more natural and will give them more space to grow.

How to Grow

Nicotiana will provide tons of gorgeous scented flowers if they are grown in their ideal conditions. Let’s examine these.

Sunlight Requirements

A close-up of slender, yellow Nicotiana flowers nestled among deep green leaves. Bathed in sunlight, the delicate blooms exhibit a vivid display, capturing the essence of nature's beauty in this captivating botanical scene.
Inadequate sunlight leads to the leggy growth of nicotiana plants.

Nicotiana performs best in full sun to partial shade. This depends on the species of nicotiana. Nicotiana alata performs best in full sun conditions. Whereas Nicotiana sylvestris prefers dappled shade. 

If you plant your nicotiana in too much shade, you will get fewer flowers. They will also appear leggy and will reach towards the sun. This leaves your plants weakened and more susceptible to pests and diseases.

If you live in an area where it gets very hot and the sun is strong, providing some afternoon shade will help keep your nicotiana from wilting. 

Soil Requirements

A brown soil, its earthy hue indicating fertility and vitality. Textured with fine grains and organic matter, it promises a nurturing environment for seeds to sprout and roots to delve deep, fostering lush growth and abundant harvests.
Ensure well-drained soil for nicotiana plants by testing its texture.

Plant your nicotiana in rich, well-drained soil. Test your soil quickly by picking some up and squeezing it. If it stays in a ball-like putty, it has a high clay content and is not well-draining. If it just runs through your fingers, it is sandy and will not hold on to moisture. You want your soil to slowly crumble in your hand. 

For too much clay, consider adding coconut coir or peat. Or, in the fall, you can even use fallen leaves. Dig this into the soil to help loosen it. I will also add organic matter at this time. 

For too sandy soil, add lots of organic matter. Compost, worm castings, sea soil, and aged manure all work great. I have even mixed in potting soil in a pinch.

Water Requirements

A pair of white gloves delicately grasp a beaker, appearing ready to pour water onto the tender nicotiana seedlings below. The seedlings, snugly nestled within black pots, exhibit signs of thriving in their nurturing environment.
Maintain consistent moisture for nicotiana to prevent drying out.

Nicotiana likes to be kept evenly and consistently moist. Do not let it dry out between watering. If you are growing it in a container, you may have to water it more often to keep it from drying out.

Climate and Temperature Requirements 

White nicotiana flowers, delicate and pure, bloom gracefully amidst green leaves. Nearby, deep purple nicotiana flowers add rich hues, their velvety petals adding depth and intrigue to the floral composition.
Nicotiana plants should be planted after frost danger passes.

Nicotiana is a short-lived perennial in zones 6-11. This is highly dependent on the species in question. But it is mostly used as an annual. Plant your nicotiana plants after the danger of frost has passed in your area.


A gloved gardener sprinkles granular fertilizer onto the soil in a garden.
Properly fertilize flowering tobacco with all-purpose fertilizer after they start flowering.

Fertilize established flowering tobacco with an all-purpose fertilizer (20-20-20). Or you can use one that is specifically formulated for blooms (15-30-15). 

Do not fertilize your plants while they are growing. It will produce fast, leggy growth, which isn’t what you want. Wait until they are established and start to flower, then begin your fertilizer regime. I usually fertilize every three to four weeks, or two to three weeks for containers. Never fertilize dry plants. Always water first, and then apply fertilizer.


A close-up of the intricate beauty of nicotiana flowers, revealing their delicate white and purple tones in vivid detail. The backdrop softly blurs, highlighting green foliage that provides a serene contrast to the blooms.
Larger nicotiana species may require staking in a sheltered planting location to prevent wind damage.

Nicotiana does require some maintenance to keep them looking great throughout the season. Deadheading flowers that have finished blooming will make them produce more flowers. There are newer varieties on the market that are self-cleaning. The ‘Domino’ series, for instance, is a hybrid variety that does not require deadheading.

The large species of flowering tobacco, like Nicotiana sylvestris, might need to be staked or caged to keep them upright. I recommend planting them in a protected location so they won’t be blown around by the wind.


Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Indian Peace Pipe’ 

A close-up of Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Indian Peace Pipe’, showcasing its long, narrow white flowers gracefully cascading downward. In the blurred background, a multitude of these ethereal blooms further enhances the enchanting scene.
The ‘Indian Peace Pipe’ variety showcases long, narrow white flowers hanging downward.

Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Indian Peace Pipe’ is a tall variety growing up to six feet high. It features white flowers that are long and narrow and hang downwards. This plant is striking and looks almost alien. The flowers are out of this world!

Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’

A close-up reveals the delicate Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ flowers in full bloom, their vibrant hues radiating in the sunlight. The blurred background elegantly showcases the lush foliage, providing a verdant contrast to the focal point of the blossoms.
This modern variety of nicotiana boasts bright chartreuse flowers on long stalks.

Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ is a modern variety that looks great in bouquets. It features bright chartreuse flowers on long stalks. Green flowers are rare and always draw attention. They make a great feature plant in containers

Nicotiana x alata ‘Saratoga Purple Bicolor’

A close-up captures the intricate details of Nicotiana x alata ‘Saratoga Purple Bicolor’ as its petals boast a deep, regal purple shade. The background softly blurs, revealing a lush tapestry of verdant foliage.
Tropical-looking Nicotiana x alata ‘Saratoga Purple Bicolor’ displays pink margins fading to pale pink.

Nicotiana x alata ‘Saratoga Purple Bicolor’ is a tropical-looking variety. It is a bright pink on the margins, and it fades to pale pink and then to white in the center. It looks great in containers or as a bright pop of color in garden beds.

Nicotiana x sanderae ‘Perfume Deep Purple’

Nicotiana x sanderae ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ in close-up, revealing purple petals with delicate veins. In the background, foliage creates a subtle blur. Another plant adds depth, enriching the botanical composition with complementary shades.
The Nicotiana x sanderae ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ variety is ideal for containers near walkways.

Nicotiana x sanderae ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ has deep velvety purple flowers. They are highly scented making them a great choice for containers planted near walkways and seating areas.


A Nicotiana plant showcases its pink blossoms, gracefully nestled among a backdrop of lush green leaves. The warm glow of the sun gently envelops the plant, illuminating its colors and adding to its natural beauty.
Larger species of nicotiana serve as striking anchor plants in gardens.

On to the fun part: design. I love designing with annuals, and nicotiana flowering tobacco is a great flower to add to your garden.

I like planting smaller nicotiana species, like Nicotiana alata, in masses. Planting one here and there does not add much impact. But planting a whole border of them is visually stunning. Plant a border of them around a patio or walkway because they smell amazing too. Grow your own from seed to cut down on the cost. You can also plant them in small groups of three, five, or seven to add little pockets of color throughout your beds. 

Larger species, like Nicotiana sylvestris, look great as anchor plants. These grow very tall and have alien-looking flowers. They can be used as a feature plant in your garden. Anywhere you want to draw attention, plant a Nicotiana sylvestris. Since they grow large you don’t need tons of them, just a few planted around the garden. I like them planted in and amongst delphinium. They can grow to the same height, but the flowers are very different. It’s a cool juxtaposition in the garden.

Flowering tobacco also looks great in containers. Use a large Nicotiana sylvestris as a ‘thriller’ or feature plant in the middle of a pot and plant other plants around it. You can use smaller Nicotiana alata as a ‘filler’ plant in a container. It will fill in the spaces with brightly colored and lovely scented flowers. 

Pests and Diseases

Nicotiana is fairly disease and pest-resistant when they are grown in their ideal conditions. They are toxic and, therefore, resistant to rabbits, deer, and other critters. But they can have some issues. Let’s examine some of the more common pests and diseases associated with nicotiana.

Powdery Mildew 

A close-up reveals a green leaf, its surface marred by a delicate coating of powdery mildew. The powdery substance softly blankets the leaf, casting a subtle haze that hints at the leaf's struggle against fungal invasion.
Avoid powdery mildew on nicotiana plants by ensuring they’re grown in well-drained soil.

Powdery mildew can affect your nicotiana plants. It is a fungus that produces a powdery white film that can be wiped off. It will stunt your plants and can eventually kill them.

To avoid powdery mildew, it is important to grow your plants in full sun to partial sun in well-drained soil. Watering is another factor for powdery mildew.  You will want to avoid overhead watering as much as possible. I water my plants with a drip hose snaked through the garden. This avoids getting the foliage wet.

For container plants, I will water using a tray at the bottom that the soil will soak up. If that isn’t an option, remove the sunflower head from the watering can and try and aim your water into the soil as opposed to on the plant.  If you are using overhead watering methods, water in the morning. This way, the sun can dry the foliage of the plant. If you water at night, the plant will sit wet for hours which is a breeding ground for mildew.

Proper plant spacing is also important to avoid powdery mildew. You will need to leave 12-18” of space between your plants to allow for adequate airflow. 

If you do see powdery mildew in your plants, remove the most affected leaves and then spray the plants with a fungicide. If it has gotten really out of control, I will pull the plants and start again.

Root Rot

A tobacco leaf flourishes in arid clay soil, showcasing its green hue. Unfortunately, the leaf succumbs to dry leaf disease, manifesting in unsightly browning and compromising its once thriving and healthy appearance.
Prevent root rot by ensuring well-draining soil and promoting airflow.

Root rot can happen to any plant in the garden. Signs include yellowing lower leaves, a rotting odor, and the plant itself rotting at the crown.

Unfortunately, if your plants have root rot, there is not much you can do but pull them and start again. Root rot is caused by a fungus or bacteria. So, the best way to deal with root rot is to prevent it. Fungus and bacteria love dark and moist environments. 

Make sure you have soil that can drain. Add peat or coconut coir to heavy clay soil to loosen it and allow it to drain. If it is in a container, ensure you have large enough holes in the bottom of the pot so water can drain out. Pebbles in the bottom of the container are not enough and can facilitate root rot.  

Make sure your plants are spaced out to allow for airflow between them. If they are too crowded, they are more prone to rot.


Amidst green foliage, one leaf stands out, marred by the presence of black aphids. Their clustering creates a stark contrast against the leaf's delicate complexion, evoking a sense of infestation and disruption within the serene natural setting.
These pests can be controlled by methods like spraying with water.

Aphids are an annoying little pest that can affect any garden plant, nicotiana included. Aphids are tiny soft-bodied insects that suck the sap and life out of your plants. You can find them hiding along the stem and underside of nicotiana leaves.

Never underestimate the power of a good hard spray with the hose. If the infestation isn’t too bad, the water pressure might be enough to blast most of them off. If you are growing nicotiana as an annual, you can just reduce the numbers until you pull them at the end of the season. You don’t need to fully eradicate them.

Your first round of defense is a garden full of beneficial predators. Ladybugs, birds, lacewings, and others will perform the pest control for you if you have a diversity of plants to attract them.

As a last resort, you might have to spray your plants to control a big aphid infestation on your plants. Choose an insecticidal soap and spray as directed.

Tobacco Hornworm

A close-up captures a yellow tobacco hornworm feasting on a leaf, its distinct markings vivid against the green backdrop. The leaf, marked by a conspicuous hole, bears witness to the insect's voracious appetite and presence in the ecosystem.
Manually remove tobacco hornworms.

Tobacco hornworm is a species of caterpillar that feasts on nicotiana foliage. These pudgy caterpillars are bright green with a single horn. It has diagonal white stripes along its body, which distinguishes it from the tomato hornworm, which has a chevron pattern. In its adult stage, it becomes a beautiful sphynx moth.

These caterpillars will chew the foliage of your flowering tobacco. Hand-pick any hornworms on your plants and move them somewhere else. Applying diatomaceous earth around the affected plants can prevent hornworms from getting onto the plants.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

Mottled light green leaves indicate possible Tobacco Mosaic virus.

If you see mottled light green and dark green markings on the leaves of your nicotiana, you could be dealing with tobacco mosaic virus. Other symptoms include ring spots, leaf distortion, and deformed growth or venation.

The best course of action is to prevent the disease by planting quality-controlled seed, and removing affected plants to avoid spread to others. This disease is communicable from beans, tomatoes, and peppers as well. Therefore, look out for symptoms on these plants if they’re near your flowering tobacco.


Q: Can you smoke flowering tobacco?

A: No. All parts of the plant are toxic. Do not consume it.

Q: Is flowering tobacco toxic?

A: Yes, all parts of the nicotiana plant are toxic and should not be consumed.

Final Thoughts 

Nicotiana, or flowering tobacco, is a beautiful plant to add to your garden. The colorful trumpet-shaped flowers, along with the intoxicating scent of these flowers, make them a welcome addition to any garden

A close-up of a lush flower bed of moss roses, showcasing vibrant pink, red, and yellow blossoms. Each moss rose boasts intricate petal details, creating a visually stunning array. Surrounding the flowers, lush green leaves provide a contrasting backdrop.


How to Grow Moss Roses (Portulaca) From Seed

Moss roses are a beautiful flowering succulent ground cover. They are heat and drought-tolerant and easy to grow. In this article, gardening expert Kelli Klein shares all you need to know about growing moss roses from seed!

short growing season. Krupnyy plan pripodnyatoy gryadki s rastushchimi buryakami i morkovkoy ryadom s gryadkoy rastushchikh ogurtsov v solnechnom sadu. Beets obladayet kruglymi, gladkimi korneplodami purpurno-bordovogo ottenka. Beets have leafy green stems, featuring deep green, slightly crinkled leaves attached to reddish stems. Carrot leaves, attached to the edible root, are feathery and fern-like in appearance, growing in a rosette from the top of the root. Carrots are root vegetables with a distinctive appearance characterized by their long, slender, tapering shape and vibrant orange color, although they can also be found in shades of yellow, purple, red, or white, depending on the variety. The smooth skin is typically glossy and may have fine root hairs, while the flesh is crisp, crunchy, and ranges from pale orange to deep orange. Carrot leaves, attached to the edible root, are feathery and fern-like in appearance, growing in a rosette from the top of the root. Carrots are commonly cultivated for their sweet flavor, crunchy texture, and versatility in culinary dishes, making them a popular ingredient in salads, soups, and side dishes. Показати більше ​ 1 150 / 5 000 Результати перекладу Результат перекладу short growing season. Close-up of a raised bed of growing beets and carrots next to a bed of growing cucumbers in a sunny garden. Beets has round, smooth, purple-burgundy roots. Beets have leafy green stems, featuring deep green, slightly crinkled leaves attached to reddish stems. Carrot leaves, attached to the edible root, are feathery and fern-like in appearance, growing in a rosette from the top of the root.

Gardening Tips

13 Ways to Make the Most of Your Short Growing Season

One of the most challenging parts of gardening in a cold climate is dealing with the short time between the last spring and first fall frost. While you can’t change your climate, you can take steps to work with your limited frost-free days. Join former vegetable farmer Briana Yablonski as she shares 13 ways to make the most of your short growing season.