Tobacco plants are normally associated with large-scale production for cigarettes. But many home gardeners grow tobacco plants as ornamentals. These plants not only produce nicotine, but also large attractive flowers and pleasant green foliage. Whatever purpose your tobacco plants serve, the look, size and quality of these plants will largely depend on the type of climate and soil in which they are grown..
Get to know the type of tobacco plant that you intend to grow. Tobacco produced for cigarettes in the United States is almost exclusively grown from cultivars of Nicotiana tabacam. Nicotiana rustica, which has a higher nicotine content, is grown for specialty tobacco products but is more often used to produce insecticides and other products. The different varieties have cultural requirements that are quite different from one another.
Make sure the climate in your area is suitable for growing tobacco. Tobacco plants need between 40 and 45 inches of annual rainfall, relatively high levels of humidity and low wind. The areas of the United States most suitable for the growth of tobacco are east of the Mississippi River and the Midwestern states that border it.
Get to know the type of soil the land in question has to offer. Ideally, tobacco plants need light, sandy soil to develop the lightness and fine texture preferred for cigar and cigarette tobacco. Heavy clay soils produce heavy plants with coarse texture.
Bring a sample of the soil to your local county extension office for testing. Tobacco plants need soil with a pH of around 5.8 (and no higher than 6.5), moderate levels of fertility (high levels of fertility result in heavy, coarse tobacco leaves) and low nitrogen levels. The report that you receive from the county extension office will prescribe any soil amendments necessary.
Test the drainage of the land. Dig a 1-by-1-foot hole (one for every 1,000 square feet of land or so) and fill it with water. If the water does not drain within a couple of hours, the soil is not a good choice for growing tobacco and you should choose another spot. If no other spot is available, you must grow your tobacco plants in raised rows or hills.
Work the soil amendments dictated by the county extension office’s report into the soil. This may include fertilizer, lime or sulfur (to raise or lower the pH of the soil). Ideally, this should be done one year before you intend to plant your tobacco.
Sterilize the soil. Tobacco plants are susceptible to nematodes and other soil-borne diseases. The method of sterilization that you use is up to you and the amount of time and investment in equipment that you can afford. Steam sterilization is the quickest method but it requires an investment in equipment rental. Solar sterilization is another popular method but takes several months to complete.
Till the soil to a depth of 1 foot, then plant the tobacco seedlings.