Jim's Tobacco Growing Q&A

At the request of many of our customers, we have posted answers to many tobacco growing questions below, we hope you find this useful.

Where will tobacco grow?
Tobacco will grow in all 50 states, basically anywhere where you have about 100 frost free nights after setting out the tobacco plants.

What tobacco will grow in my area?
I have been asked this question thousands of times by customers over the years, the answer is really quite simple, tobacco will grow just about anywhere, basically if a tomato plant will grow in your area, a tobacco plant will thrive. All tobacco varieties do about the same in hot areas, cold areas, dry areas and different elevations. You should choose a type of tobacco to grow because of how you will use it, if one type will grow in your area, they all will.

How long does it take from the time you sow the seeds until they are ready to transplant?
Most growers state 4-6 weeks, but to be honest, I like to start mine about 6-8 weeks before our estimated last frost, tobacco seedlings transplant well, and the extra 2 weeks growth not only shortens the growing season, it makes for larger, healthier plants when you do transplant.

How much tobacco will a single plant produce, and how much tobacco do I need to make a carton of cigarettes?
Well, tobacco yield will vary among the different varieties, but generally a tobacco plant will produce about 3-4 ounces of dry, cured tobacco ( we normally get 5-7 ounces from our plants, but we offer optimal conditions for growing ). When figuring your tobacco needs, we would advise you calculate 2 ounces per plant to have a little margin of error.
While a commercial cigarette will normally contain about 0.7 grams of tobacco per cigarette, this is "puffed" tobacco and non-tobacco ingredients added. A pound of pure tobacco will normally produce about 2 cartons of cigarettes. As a rule of thumb, figure about 4 plants per carton, this gives you quite a bit of leeway. You should note that the best tobacco is aged, so the first year you grow, you should try to double your normal tobacco needs for the year, this way you can keep some aging each year.

What is the best way to start tobacco seeds? Tobacco seeds really are fairly easy to start, but the seeds are very tiny and if you are not careful, you can have bad results the first time you try them. We start our seeds in regular 1020 growing flats but you can use almost any type of tray or container to start your seeds in, we do not recommend using peat pellets, we've always had rather poor results with these.
We fill them with a good seed starting mix. This is important, as a good seed starting mix will be fine textured and allow seeds to lay on top of the soil. Course mixes will allow the seeds to easily wash into the soil, preventing germination. You can usually find a fairly good seed starting mix at most garden centers, Miracle Gro is pretty good, or you can use a cacti plant growing mix in a pinch, as these are usually rather fine textured mixes.
Before sowing the seeds, we soak the soil thoroughly, this is important, as this will prevent you from having to water the surface for a time after sowing.
We then sprinkle the seeds onto the surface of the soil, we sow ours rather thickly, as we plant to transplant the seedlings into larger pots a couple of weeks after germination.
We then cover the 1020 flat with a clear plastic dome to help keep moisture trapped against the soil surface, you do not have to do this, but it really saves you time and effort. If you do not cover the container with plastic, be sure to mist the soil surface daily, if you allow the surface to dry out for only a day, it can kill the germination process.

Opps! I think I bought way too many seeds, how long will tobacco seeds keep in storage?
You can store extra tobacco seeds for 2-3 years and still get good germination normally ( we change out our seed crop yearly, so if you buy from us you know the seeds are fresh ). Store seeds in a dark, dry, cool place such as a linen drawer.

How long does it take tobacco seeds to germinate?
The majority of varieties will start showing germination in 7-10 days, or even a little sooner, but different varieties do germinate at different speeds, it is not unusual for some to take as long as two weeks to show signs of germination, and this can stretch into 3-4 weeks in cold soil and in summer heat.

What should I do when I see the first signs of germination?
As soon as you seed the tiny green specks appear, remove the plastic cover if you have one in place. From this point on, you need to make sure the seedlings have good air circulation in order to prevent "damping off", a common fungi disease in greenhouses. A good source of information on this can be found at NC State Plant Pathology.
Even though you are providing air circulation, it is still important to maintain good soil surface moisture. Bright light is also important, not directly in full sun, but in bright, indirect sunlight area.

What about fertilizing new seedlings?
Most seed starting mixes contain a small amount of starter fertilize. You can also use a weak ( about 1/4 strength ) solution of water soluble plant food such as Miracle Gro. Use this solution weekly until seedlings are about 3 inches tall, then switch to full strength.

If I have planted seeds too close together and need to separate seedlings, when do I do this?
Tobacco seedlings separate and transplant very well, but you should let them develop a root system before pulling seedlings apart and transplanting, even if they are growing in a close wad or clump. I recommend not trying to separate them until they are 3-4 inches tall. Using a root stimulator solution ( you can find this at most gardening centers ), is very helpful in reducing shock.

How do I transplant them into the Garden?
Same culture as tomatoes, we recommend planting in late afternoon, and watering around plants thoroughly to settle in soil. You should plant in garden type soil, we double the amount of fertilizer we work into the soil in early spring for tobacco areas. It is always a good ideal to have the soil scientifically tested. Your local county extension agent can tell you how to take a representative sample to send to your State Soil Testing Lab, every county has a county agent ( you can usually find the phone number by looking under Government Agencies in the phone book under the title "Conservation District" ). Test results and fertilizer recommendations matched to the crop to be grown will be returned to the grower, just note that you are growing tobacco on the form you send in with the test.
Tobacco plants are gross feeders, we feed ours with a water soluble plant food ( Miracle Gro will work fine ) about once a week after the plants are a foot tall.

How far apart do I space tobacco plants in the garden?
Generally, we prefer to space our tobacco out at about 3 feet apart, in rows 4 feet apart. This allows for plenty of growing room and you can still walk between the rows to inspect the crop during the growing season.

Should I stake my plants?
If you can, it is a good ideal to do so, we drive metal fence posts down about every 20 feet along our rows, then run a small rope ( about 1/4" is fine ) between each post, and tie the plants off to the rope, this gives support during storms and high winds.

Will bugs be a problem on tobacco?
Surprisingly, bugs love tobacco, but are easily held at bay dusting with Sevin Dust, we use the Liquid Sevin Dust Spray on ours, you want to use something that is safe to use on vegetables, as you will be smoking or chewing this later. Sevin Dust will wash off and is considered safe to use.

Can I grow tobacco in containers?
Yes, tobacco grows very well in containers, buy you will need at least 3 gallon size containers, and you will have to water often.

Hopefully this info will help you get started growing tobacco in your garden, for harvesting and curing information you may want to by our book, DVD or videos.

Return to Tobacco Seed Page