The Tobacco Plant Seedlings


On 2nd Feb 2012, I reported ‘germination in bowl one’. Thereafter, with much joy, I reported germination in bowl two and bowl three. Some hundreds of tobacco plants had germinated. Before the end of Feb, I had a lot of tobacco seedlings. They were in fibre pots, and therefore needed not to be transplanted – merely to be thinned out from time to time. All was well.

Today, I must report that all is not well, by any manner of means. By now, April 20th, after two months, I should have burgeoning plants, maybe five inches across the spread of the leaves, almost ready to plant out. But these plants are still only half-an-inch tall. Also, they show signs of dying back. That is, instead of dark green, healthy seedlings, I have plants which are ‘dying back’. Their leaves are going pale – even yellowish. Some have gone brownish. But there is hope – some of the damaged plants are producing new greenery.

I have come to the conclusion that I have misled myself. I made a mistake.

I thought that LIGHT was the important thing to promote growth. I have come to the conclusion that this is not so. I have come to the conclusion that WARMTH is the key. (But that is not to say that plants should be kept in darkness!) When I attempted to expose the plants to more light, I put them on the kitchen windowsill. What I did not realise was that the sill was tiled and that the tiles were mortared directly onto the external wall. Thus, the bowls containing the pots were on a very cold surface. That surface drained the heat from the compost and thus subjected the plants to low temperatures. That was a terrible error.  I had become complacent.

I am now trying to rectify the error. I have put the bowls holding the pots onto makeshift shelves over my radiators, with the objective of raising the temperature of the bowls, the sand, the pots and the plants.

Not all the plants are suffering. I have just counted the seedlings and I have 140. Interestingly, once the seeds have germinated, they seem to be ‘long-suffering’. That is, they are quite tough. I hope to be able to rescue them. But it seems clear to me that they cannot thrive in cold conditions. This may explain why the three plants which I germinated in November have taken so long to gain any strength. I wondered about that.

WARMTH (but not HEAT) seems to be critical. We still have much to learn.

I have been pondering how to provide the plants with gentle warmth now that the central heating is not required so much. I had an idea tonight in the pub. (Many of my best ideas come to be in the pub!) It just so happens that I have an electric blanket which I have not used for ages. But it is still working OK. The thought occurred to me that I can plug in the electric blanket, put it on a table or something, and set it on the lowest setting . I can then place the bowls on the blanket and subject them to low, continuous warmth. At such a low setting, there ought to be not much cost. Of course, overnight, until the central heating is switched off, I shall continue to use the radiators during the night.

I have checked the roots of a few of the plants and they seem to be OK, despite the lack of development. I expect the plants to recover, but they need to develop much more rapidly.

 There are lessons to be learned. Not everything is clear cut.

7 Responses to “The Tobacco Plant Seedlings”

  1. legiron Says:

    I never plant out anything until the end of May here. North Scotland can have a spontaneous frost even then, and at the moment it’s not even safe to leave them in the greenhouse.

    My windowsills are wood, and the plants are about two-three inches wide at the moment. They’ll be at least nine inches to a foot high before they go outside, not just because I won’t plant until the worst frosts are passed but also because the slugs will mince them if they’re too small.

    How about putting a plank of wood on those tiles? Would that be enough insulation?

  2. legiron Says:

    Last year, my seeds only sprouted in April. By August they were six-footers. Once they get going there’s no stopping them.

  3. Rose Says:

    My money is still on the compost and the fibre pots.

    I know that Levington suits a lot of plants, but tobacco seedlings are enthusiastic growers, it sounds to me as if they have run out of nutrients. Personally, I would only ever use Levington for soil improvement and when I used fibre pots years ago for sweet peas, I found them an expensive disappointment.

    I’d suggest you transplant a few into John Innes loam, small plastic pots and leave them on a south facing windowsill, you will soon find out if that’s the problem.
    If you are worried about the chill from the tiles, may I suggest a sheet of expanded polystyrene, though it hasn’t proved necessary on my tiled kitchen windowsill.

  4. Barman Says:

    I planted Virginian Gold and Habano in a bucket.

    They all germinated and got the two little leaves…

    But all of a sudden all the Habano died…. not sure why…

    The Virginian Gold is still going strong tho…..

    • Rose Says:


      I hadn’t heard of Habano, but it appears that it’s from Cuba and quite recently too.
      We have been growing Virginian tobacco successfully in England since 1619, with a small intermission of 400 years thanks to James 1st.

      Though my Havana behaves much the same as the Virginia, it may be that the ancestors of my seeds have been around in England since the WW2 when home growing was widespread.

      If you have any Habano seeds left perhaps they might feel more at home if you treated them more like greenhouse tomatoes, at least until late May, depending on your location.

      Geneticist’s Tutorial on Nutritional Needs of Cigar Tobacco

  5. ptbarnumthe2nd Says:

    I treated mine like I’ve always done with tomato seeds – germinated them in the airing cupboard and then moved them to a place which is frost-free, out of full sun, but not too warm, because one of the biggest problems with seedlings is damping off, where mould grows on the compost. Keeping the compost moist enough without overwatering is the trickiest part of growing from seed, and for that reason I’ve never used fibre pots for germination, only for potting on when the plants are much bigger and beyond threat of damping off. But excess water + heat = humidity -> mould so don’t be too enthusiastic with their proximity to the radiators.

  6. junican Says:

    Many thanks to all for the very welcome advice.

    I’m keeping my eye on things. I have some other compost, B & Q ‘verve’ sowing and cutting compost and also Growmore general purpose compost, either of which have even been opened yet. I have in mind to transplant a few of the seedlings into those composts in plastic pots. In that way, I can compare which seedlings do best.

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