Growing Nicotiana species
Tobacco has been used and cultivated in America for a very long time, 10,000 years by some accounts. High nicotine content varieties of Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica were prized by many tribes. Both species are thought to be cultivars. N. rustica (Wild Tobacco) contains about 10 times the nicotine of N. tabacum, and should be considered one of the most important hallucinogenic entheogens, although both have been used ritually and shamanically by many tribes throughout the Americas.
Nicotianas are beautiful plants, growing to between one and two metres in height depending on the variety and growing conditions. They have huge green leaves and very sweet-scented flowers which range in colour from white to purple, through pink and red, for N. tabacum, or yellow (or even white or green) for N. rustica. They are straightforeward to grow, and will give you no end of pleasure in the Summer months.
Nicotianas are very forgiving plants, and although they are native to warm subtropical regions, they will thrive in cooler temperate parts of the world. If seeds are collected from your plants and re-sown, within a few years you can develop hardier varieties more suited to your local climate. They can be sown in Spring, will flower in Summer and can be harvested in early Autumn. For best results they require lots of fertaliser and lots of space for their roots, but I have grown them successfully in 20cm pots.
Growing from Seed
Nicotiana seeds are produced in abundance and are very fine. They can be sown any time in spring, but will produce considerably more growth if sown early in the season. Hold off early sowing if it is unseasonally cold, as frost will kill Nicotianas. Mix the seeds with about twice their volume of sand and sprinkle the mixture on the surface of your growing medium. They can be sown in seed trays, pots, or if it is warm enough, directly into soil. Water pots or trays from below by placing the trays/pots in a sink or large container and letting the water seep upwards through the holes in the bottom by capillary action. When most of the surface is moist, remove them from the water and leave to drain. Place them inside a propagator (heated if available). They require a temperature of 21°C to germinate. They also require light, so don't try to germinate them in the airing cupboard. They should germinate within a week.
Nicotiana seedlings should be transplanted when very small, within a week after germination. If transplanting is left until later it is very easy for their tap root to become damaged, which will result in very poor and sluggish growth for the lifespan of the plant.
Prepare the ground in advance by adding copious quantities of garden compost and, if available, well-rotten horse manure.
Growing in Pots
Even though Tobacco plants like a lot of space, they can be grown successfully in pots. Use the largest size pot you can reasonably accommadate, and give them plenty of rich compost. In pots they will require regular watering during the hotest part of the Summer months, sometimes daily. As I said, I have successfully grown Nicotiana tabacum in 20cm pots, they were sown too late in the season (around May), and yet they still produced abundant growth. They reached about 80cm in height and were still flowering well into September.