Nicotiana Is a Hummingbird Garden’s Best Kept Secret

Updated: Jan. 31, 2024

If you're looking to add flowering plants to your patio, try nicotiana. Fragrant nicotiana will impress you and your hummingbirds.

Why You Should Add Nicotiana to the Garden

nicotiana avalon pinkAll-America Selections
Nicotiana ‘Avalon Bright Pink’

If you want to create an inviting space for hummingbirds to visit in your yard, nicotiana will entice them with tube-shaped flowers and plentiful nectar. This cottage garden favorite, also known as flowering tobacco, is an easygoing plant that will provide color and fragrance all summer long.

Barbara Pierson, horticulturist and nursery manager of White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut, says, “We love growing nicotiana in the garden because they are practically carefree. No fussy watering or soil requirements and the free branching habit requires no staking. They like a sunny spot, but I have found that part shade can work, and the flowers tend to hold better with a little shade.”

Nicotiana Care and Growing Tips

White flowers of tobacco plant, Nicotiana sylvestris, in gardenRosemary Calvert/Getty Images
Nicotiana sylvestris, also known as woodland tobacco or South American tobacco
  • Scientific name: Nicotiana spp.
  • Common name: Flowering tobacco
  • Zones: 10 to 11 or annual
  • Light needs: Full sun to partial sun
  • Size: 1 to 5 feet tall

These plants like to be in well-drained soil and full to partial sun. You can start seeds indoors several weeks before the last frost date or look for plants at your favorite garden center.

Nicotiana is hardy in USDA plant zones 10 and 11, or treat it as an annual. If you don’t remove spent flowers, you may get a few volunteer seedlings next year.

‘Towards the end of the growing season here in Connecticut, we allow them to produce as much seed as possible so that we have seedlings the following summer,” says Barbara. “Plants that self sow are welcome surprises in spring!”

Nicotiana alata 'Crimson Bedder'Via White Flower Farm
Nicotiana alata ‘Crimson Bedder’

To keep the plants looking their best, keep up with watering during hot weather. This is especially important for container-grown plants, which dry out faster.

“Keeping your plants healthy by watering when needed will ensure flower production and hummingbird visits through the summer. Nicotiana will wilt slightly, so knowing when to water can be done by observing the plants during hot sunny stretches of weather,” says Barbara.

Where to Plant Nicotiana

Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris), male in flight feeding on Nicotiana (Nicotiana ssp.), Madera Canyon, Arizona, USARolf Nussbaumer/Getty Images
Broad-billed hummingbird feeding on flowering tobacco

“Nicotiana comes in a variety of sizes,” says Jen McGuinness, author of Bird-Friendly Gardening: Guidance and Projects for Supporting Birds in Your Landscape.” Tall varieties can be incorporated into the back of the garden, while the smaller, more compact plants can be grouped together in the front of a border or used in container plantings. Consider planting nicotiana with other flowers that attract hummingbirds, such as wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).”

Barbara suggests using nicotiana both in the garden and in pots. “The large stature (taller) varieties are best grown in the garden. They can be grown in pots if the container is large enough. The shorter varieties can be grown in the garden or in pots on a patio. If you choose to grow them in pots to attract hummingbirds to your deck, remember that they do take more water when pot grown. I have done this successfully at home and love watching the hummingbirds visiting the tubular flowers.”

Fragrant Floral Scent

nicotiana alataVia White Flower Farm
White flowering Nicotiana alata is very fragrant

In addition to adding graceful structure to plantings, nicotiana offers a lovely scent that carries through the yard and garden. The tubular-shaped flowers appear on branched stems during summer to provide color and fragrance all season long and into fall.

Nicotiana is known for a perfume fragrance that starts to linger at dusk and into the evening. The flowers smell sweetest after dark. For an intoxicating scent, try Nicotiana alata. The white flowers will illuminate a moon garden.

Best Nicotiana Varieties

Nicotiana Perfumedeeppurple 2006 1027x1030All-America Selections
Nicotiana ‘Perfume Deep Purple’

Nicotiana blooms can be found in a range of colors, including white, rose, lime green and purple. Barbara suggests using ‘Perfume Deep Purple,’ an All-America Selections winner that can be grown in the ground, raised beds or pots. “I love the dark purple color with older flowers fading to lavender and fragrance of this variety. It can also be grown in part shade.”

Nicotiana alata is a popular white variety that has been grown for a very long time. “It is the standard white flowering tobacco. ‘Crimson Bedder’ has red/magenta flowers that really put on a show all summer on a fairly large plant. Hummingbirds love the number of flowers and I like the color,” Barbara says.

Another standout cultivar choice with many gardeners is ‘Only the Lonely.’ The name refers to the size of this nicotiana— it’s so tall in stature that it stands out from all other plantings in a garden space.

Attract Hummingbirds with Nicotiana

Bnbbyc17 Joel HillyerCourtesy Joel Hillyer
Hummingbird at a red nicotiana flower

Nicotiana provides a welcome invitation for hummingbirds to the garden.

“Hummingbirds like nicotiana because the flowers are tubular and have nectar that the birds enjoy,” says Barbara. “Nicotiana is so free flowering that there are many flowers open at a time for feeding. Moths also are attracted to nicotiana; I enjoy seeing (them) in the late afternoon and evening.”

Adding nectar rich flowering tobacco plants to your healthy garden can tantalize hungry hummingbirds to join the butterflies and bumblebees at your blossoming buffet.

“Hummingbirds need a lot of energy.” says Ben Young III, urban naturalist and host of “Wild New York” on YouTube, “Their hearts beat up to 1,200 times a minute! When they’re foraging for nectar, a one-stop-shop like Nicotiana alata have blooms in bunches, meaning a hummingbird can gather quite a bit of nectar without flying too far.”

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