The list of flowers I grow from seed changes from year to year, but there are some that are non-negotiable. I must have them. At the top of the list is Nicotiana alata.
Most people are familiar with Nicotiana—common names are flowering tobacco or jasmine tobacco, but this is one of those plants for which I always use the botanical name—in some form. Often they know the short, stocky hybrids commonly sold at nurseries as bedding plants (these hybrids are Nicotiana x sanderae), but alata is a different animal. It’s taller, far more natural looking, free flowering and, often, fragrant.
Although there are several varieties of Nicotiana alata including white, pink and red, my go-to color is lime green (which goes by the handy name ‘Lime Green’). It is a color that ties all other colors in the garden together. Somehow it manages to disappear and at the same time brighten the garden. I can’t explain this phenomenon, but I know that the garden would be worse if it was lacking.
I grow it in mass quantities—probably 24 or more plants—because it is my favorite annual to tuck in empty spaces that can handle a little height (nasturtiums fits this bill when I need something low). Although you can find some nurseries that carry it, the only way I could afford to plant so much of it, is to grow it from seed, and I’m happy to report that it seems easy to grow from seed. In fact the most difficult part is handling the seeds which are nearly microscopic.
Try not to overseed when starting. The tip of a toothpick can help pick up tiny seeds if you want to be more precise about it. Just lightly press the seeds into the soil and don’t cover them at all. They need light to germinate. I start them about eight weeks before our last frost date, which is roughly the end of March. They will self-sow in the garden, but only in the most polite manner and if you leave the soil undisturbed.
They grow best in full sun, but plug along fairly well in a bit of shade in my garden. They suffer a little in the heat of summer, although in my zone 5 garden this is more of slowing, than a shutdown. Never fear, they will return to their floriferous nature when the temperature cools slightly.
There is one thing to note when growing them, however. They should not be planted near other members of the nightshade family—tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, to name a few—because it can be susceptible to tobacco mosaic virus, which can be transferred to these vegetables. I’ve never noticed this in my plants, but I don’t plant them near vegetables just to be safe.
Put Nicotiana alata in the garden, in containers and any other place you can think of. This happy plant with star-shaped flowers is a lovely companion to anything else the garden.
It is approaching that time of year when a person can winter sow some flowers. It is exciting to see some annuals for this coming season.
I just did some winter sowing over the weekend, actually! I got some poppies out in the garden and this year I’m also trying the method of winter sowing in milk jugs for the first time. I always love a good experiment!
How is the milk jug planting done? Watering indoors outdoors- . Any good planting advice appreciated. Love gardening of any kind . I over do it. It will probably kill me. lol But it’s my therapy.??????
Just added this to my seed list …..which is getting really long by now. Who do you buy your seeds from?
I use SO many sources, to be honest, but I seem to go back to Baker Creek, Select Seeds (excellent selection of interesting flower seeds there), Territorial Seed, Park Seed and Johnny’s year after year. I’ve bought this from both Baker Creek and Select Seeds in the past.
Wait?!! You actually scattered poppy seeds on the ground now?
That lime green is gorgeous and really does what you say as per your photos. I love green flowers but just never make myself do seeds. I buy the seeds and let them age to death in the package!
Yes! I do it every year around this time, right on top of the snow. It seems to work well, although poppies are hardly fussy.
I’m actually TRYING to scale back on what I start from seed inside this year. It was too much last year and got to be not fun by the end. I’m planning to direct sow whatever I can, but I must have my Nicotiana!
I want Nicotina in my garden this year too! What is the yellow plant in the foreground! Love your combination of colors in your bed!
Nicotiana Alata has long been a favorite of mine especially the tall white variety which emits a soft scent in the evening therefore lovely addition to the moon garden in my back garden. Thank you for reminding me to start some from seed because as you mentioned they can be hard to find in most nurseries.
I bought some amazing nicotiana pug plants at a local nursery they looked like alata grew to 4 foot were white and had amazing smell I like large plants but the nursery closed and im trying to source the same plant seeds but to find the same seed is problematic it comes as so many names and most ads refer to it as being compact 24″ but mine were double the height so in thinking they are commercially dwarfed varirties. So could anyone direct me to the correct type I need thank you. Alistair
US Nicotiana Germplasm Collection North Carolina State UniversityDepartment of Crop ScienceBox 76204309 Williams HallRaleigh, North Carolina 27695
Primary Phone: (919) 515-4063Fax: (919) 515-5315
Email: [email protected]
Nicotiana Sylvestris is the large , highly fragrant plant Alistair is referring to. I have grown both varieties and they are lovely in the garden.
That is a pretty and unusual plant. I like the color and the photo you posted on Instagram was gorgeous with all the flowers. I’ve been following you on YouTube, will have to read more through your blog. Thank you! Heather
Select Seeds offered plants of Nicotiana alata green this year. I bought two to plant in a huge pot with some smaller annuals. One is a little shorter with a green flower fading whitish in the middle. Extremely fragrant. The other is a little taller and has a solid green flower. This one I can hardly smell. I will save the seeds of the fragrant plant for starting early next year. When a nicotiana seeds itself, the plants take forever to germinate and are just starting to flower at the end of summer(zone 6A in Michigan) so start them early inside and you get many more weeks blooming than if you just used the plants that come up naturally. I am always interested in sources for different nicotianas. Thanks.
I recently started following you and love your garden and it is inspiring me to try nicotiana. Even though it is mid summer I just ordered some nicotiana seeds and am thinking about trying to start some from seed as soon as the seeds arrive. I live in NW Florida, zone 8b, where it is hot and humid and we dont typically get a frost until late November or into December. Do you think they will germinate and grow ok now in this heat? Thank you for showing your gardens and sharing your knowledge in videos with us. You have been an inspiration to me!
I live in Zone 9 in Homosassa, Florida. Nicotiana here seems to germinate during the Fall-Winter here, and begins blooming very early in late Winter-Spring (Jan to April). It freely “volunteers” all over the garden, often far from where I last remember seeding it intentionally, and often YEARS later. I suspect it requires some cold stratification, and responds to some combination of cool snap and last rains of Autumn here on Florida’s Nature Coast. I first start seeing the basal rosettes during the Fall months, often in our Fall-seeded lettuce beds, where it competes with my husband’s lettuce, and I (not at first recognizing it), just hack off the offending leaves and drop them in the compost bin or near-by worm tower. It shoots up seed heads from Jan through March, as maturing volunteers reach flowering maturity. It appears to be entirely cold tolerant here; didn’t flinch through our frosts, and is still alive and well, and blooming into the first heat of Spring (it’s early April as I write this). I am conflicted as to pull it out or not (as I’m late planting my spring veggie transplants, and have such a small lot that I would have to plant my tomatoes and peppers in the same beds it now occupies – areas of my garden where the soil is neutral to acid, and well-drained, as that’s what ALL the solanums seem to require (as the Old Fashioned Vining Petunias are also “volunteering” in the same areas). I arrived at this blog page here today from searching “Nicotiana good or bad companion.” Anyone care to share experience with Nicotiana near their own tomatoes, peppers, eggplants in Florida?
Hi , I have had nicotiana grandiflora in my garden this year , I bought them online as seedlings they are amazing , I’m trying to harvest seeds for next year but am struggling I pull off the spent flower strip it back but only find a little green bud with an orange tip (actually these were off my other Nicotianas, videos I watch you squeeze and roll the buds and all the seeeds come out , that’s not happening for me , shall I keep these buds and dry them out , or am I trying to early to harvest them thanks Marie F .
Hi Marie. I would leave some to mature and reseed in your garden if you don’t mind where they are now, and you won’t mind seeing them in other places where they might “volunteer” naturally. The nicotiana in my Zone 9 garden has dispersed itself some 10 to 20 feet from its “last known location” into any soil in my garden that it finds suitable…..all by itself. It seems to be one of those easy to grow (if not weedy) “pioneer” type species that is happy in any vacant location from pure, unimproved sand to well-nourished, rich soil vegetable beds. If you want to collect some seed to store and save, I would recommend leaving them on the plant as long as possible during your dry season, harvesting them before your first forecasted rains.
Thank you so much for being such a fountain of knowledge – I have been devouring all the wisdom you keeping pouring out.
Quick question re: nicotiana. I read that it attracts aphids quite a bit. Does that end up being a problem for neighboring plants? Or does it actually help more so by being an aphid magnet thus keeping the bugs away from the other plants?
Thank you so much for being such a fountain of knowledge – I have been devouring all the wisdom you keeping pouring out. Quick question re: nicotiana. I read that it attracts aphids quite a bit. Does that end up being a problem for neighboring plants? Or does it actually help more so by being an aphid magnet thus keeping the bugs away from the other plants?
OH I am so bummed! After reading this on your blog I decided I HAD to have a couple varieties of Nicotiana in my garden this year. I purchased seed, planted them on March 24th, and April 1, 2021. They germinated!! I was happy! But here it is May 10, 2021 and NONE of the nicotiana even have their second set of leaves yet, they ARE still alive, just not growing, I think the tallest one is maybe 1/4″.
I guess I will have to hope that my Agastache Golden Jubilee has reseeded again, so I can use it for the chartreuse leaves where I thought I would put the nicotiana.
Great info, I didn’t know Not to plant near a tomato bush (wish it had a warning on the label). I had 4 plants in a pot (lime, white & red) looking great and literally over night started dying off. I had repotted them into a bigger pot and put the pot next to a tomato bush. They looked great for a couple of weeks before one by one started dying off. I moved it away from the tomato plant by accident, decided maybe it didn’t like where I had placed it. I think 1 of the 4 plants has survived. Totally bummed!
Hi there the leaves have almost over night gone brown and shrivelled and just looks like it is dying. Before this the flowers were wonderful.
Inspired by your gorgeous garden photos of Nicotiana Alata Lime Green, I started some seeds indoors. They germinated and I potted them up now that they are about 1.5 inches wide and have 4 leaves. Now their growth seem to be stalled. They are in pots, in full sun. The temps have been between 50-78 here consistently. Can you offer any tips or encouragement? I’m giving weekly feed of miracle grow. Zone 6b coastal Connecticut here. Hoping they will make the leap soon!
Follow up – It is now mid-August and they are fabulous! I love this plant! Has been blooming like crazy since July with occasional deadheading. Looks great in arrangements. It seems resistant to all but Japanese Beetles and it has held up to this hot and dry summer better better than most of the plants around here.