Starting and Growing Tobacco from Seeds.
Tobacco is a relatively easy plant to grow and can be grown as far
north as Canada and Alaska with the proper planning and preparation.
Tobacco seeds are extremely small (Fig. 1) not much larger than a
pin prick and care should be taken when sowing seed as to not sow to thickly.
Tobacco seed require warm temperatures for germination of about 75-80
degrees. Seed should be started indoors 4-6 weeks before your last
Start by sprinkling the tobacco seed onto the surface of a sterile
seed starting mix and lightly water in.
Do not cover the seed with any soil as they need light
for germination and covering can slow down germination time or if
covered too deeply the seed won't germinate at all, watering in
lightly is all that is needed.
Seed will begin to germinate in about 7-10 days with some tobacco
varieties taking a few days longer to begin germination (Fig. 2).
If your seed don't germinate right away be patient, it can take up to
2 weeks for some tobacco varieties to germinate.
The soil should be kept moist but not soggy and should never be
allowed to dry completely out. Care should be taken when watering
freshly emerging tobacco seedlings because the force of the water can
uproot the tiny seedlings causing them to die. The best way to water
seedlings is from the bottom, the way this is accomplished (if you are
using a pot with holes in the bottom) sitting the container with the
seedlings into a pan of water for only a few seconds or a bit longer,
the potting mix will wick the water up into the seedling container
allowing your seedlings to be water without getting the leaves wet.
The next step is to transplant the tobacco seedlings into a larger
container such as a pot or transplant cell tray as seen in
Fig. 3. so that they can
develop a good root system.
Under 'normal' conditions the tobacco seedlings will be large enough and
ready for moving into pots or cells after 3 weeks from the beginning
Once seed have germinated and seedlings are big enough you can grasp
proceed to transplanting into your pots.
Transplanting into containers is easily accomplished by making a small hole into
the soil and inserting the roots of the tobacco seedling and
backfilling the hole with a little soil mix,
Fig 4. Once you have them potted
in, water in with a plant starter fertilize solution such as miracle
grow or seaweed/fish fertilize emulsions.
Seedlings beginning to germinate.
Transplanting seedlings into trays
Close up of a seedling getting transplanted
The initial fertilizing you gave at the potting stage should be
sufficient food for the plants until they reach transplanting stage, (Fig.
6) which normal takes approximately 3-4 weeks. If your plants
begin to yellow or look stunted another dose of fertilize may be
needed but do so sparingly, over fertilization while in pots or trays
may burn the plant's roots and may also lead to overgrown spindly
Tobacco plants are considered 'transplantable plants'
meaning they, like tomato plants, can be planted bare root with out
the need for any soil attached to the roots. If you have large
containers or seedling flats you can sow the seed very thinly and
leave the seedlings there until they reach the size for transplanting
outdoors and pull the plants and transplant directly into your garden
but I recommend using pots or celled trays.
This is a much easier way to to do it but also has it's drawbacks.
Once planted, bare root the plants will go through a sort of
'transplant shock' where some or most of the largest leaves may yellow
and wilt and the plant may appear it is going to die, but it will not,
the main stem and bud of the plant will continue to strive and in a
week or so will begin to grow and flourish. By growing your seedlings
in containers or celled trays there is no transplant shock and plants
begin to grow immediately.
If you are growing your tobacco seedlings in a greenhouse or indoors
they should be "hardened off" before you transplant into your field or
garden, but is not always necessary as long as your plants are not
spindly and weak and weather conditions are favorable. This period
allows the plant to adjust to outdoor weather conditions. A week of
hardening off should be ample time but 2 weeks is even better.
General note if planting
more than one tobacco variety
Tobacco is considered a self
pollinating plant meaning it has the ability to fertilize it's own
flowers without the aid of insects. But different tobacco varieties
planted close to one another can and will become crossed by insects
such as moths, etc. that commonly
visit the plants flowers. Tobacco can also become cross pollinated by
wind although at a much lesser degree than by insects. To keep tobacco varieties
pure, isolation of one mile is needed between different varieties to
insure continued variety purity is maintained or other preventive
cross pollination methods should be used if isolation distance is a
"Transplanting into garden"
Tobacco is a heavy feeder and if grown continuously in the same spot
will deplete the nutrients in the soil. So to counteract this it is
wise to employ a 2 year rotation in your growing space by planting 2
years in a specific location and waiting a year or more before you
plant your tobacco back into that location again. Tobacco also
requires good amounts of nitrogen and potash both of which can be
achieved with a good compost but we recommend a good garden fertilizer
if you do not have or use compost.
Space the tobacco plants 2-3 feet apart in the row and space rows 3
1/2 - 4 feet apart when it is practical. Water the plants thoroughly
once transplanted and if no rain or dry weather is forecast, water
each evening for a few days till plants become established.
roots of tobacco grow quickly and the root structure is quite large
with thousands of small hair like feeder roots that grow close to the
soil surface. Care should be taken when cultivating as not to till or
hoe too deep and damage the roots.
Keep the tobacco clean and free of all weeds and a few good hoeings by
pulling up soil around the base of the plant will help in
strengthening the plant. The structure of a tobacco plant's
leaves enables the plant to make use of light rains and heavy dews by
collecting and funneling the water down to the base of the plant as
can be seen in
Fig. 5 by the wet soil.
weeks from planting heavy deep tilling should be stopped (Fig
8) and only light scrapings to control weeds should be
Plants ready for transplanting in the field.
Tobacco plant after about 2 weeks from planting in the field.
healthy Burley tobacco plant.
Diseases and Insects
There are many insects and diseases that can attack tobacco.
Here in Tennessee, two of the prominent insect pest are the hornworm
More information on insects and diseases can be found on our
tobacco links page.