A few years ago ‘Mighty’ Quinn Peterson joined us here at It’s About Thyme from Texas A&M. We were in the midst of a particularly serious infestation of aphids and white flies following the torrential rains of the spring. Quinn advised us to place small tobacco plants at the entrances of the greenhouses.
He germinated the minute seeds himself, and in a few weeks we had some fairly good sized plants . . . which immediately became full of ‘bad bugs.’ This was pretty fascinating as they actually left our ‘good plants’ to seek out the new plant in the house. I was intrigued.
Quinn explained that the bugs are drawn to the nicotine, become addicted and will stay and not leave until death. Ugh, I thought, this is bad stuff. Perhaps the Surgeon General should be made aware of this.
I took a few of his baby plants and placed them in our new medicine, butterfly and hummingbird gardens.
I planted them at the north and south exposures as I figured this is the path of our prevailing winds and the flight path of ‘the invaders.’ Bingo. It worked!
Tobacco is a member of the nightshade family. We grow Nicotiana tabacum – Virginia gold. It reaches a height of 6 feet, and has velvety light green leaves and beautiful pink trumpet flowers. It is quite lovely and adds a level of interest to the gardens. Aside from the myriad of images that magically become fixed in your head as you weed and work around them like the Marlboro Man, a Camel and some guy with a black eye, the smell is rather pleasant.
Many online gardening sites suggest using the tobacco plant as an insect repellent, but this is incorrect. These plants are insect attractors and should be thought of as ‘a trap crop.’
In fact this is the reason tobacco crops take a tremendous toll on the environment – because of the amount of chemicals required to keep the plants insect-free to grow production-grade leaves. Some tout the use of tobacco tea as an organic insect repellent. I’ve not tried it yet only because I’ve not had to.
The tobacco we plant is purely sacrificial. We plant it to draw all the bad bugs to it and that’s that. I actually thought ours would have died over the winter but they actually thrived and are bigger and healthier than last year.
Plant them in full sun for best results. Please tell us how they worked for your bug problems. You can save your seed pods for next year, you will get a million seeds . . . seriously! Please don’t use the leaves for anything else; your garden needs you. Happy gardening everyone!
If you have a question for Chris, Dave, Amanda – or any of our resident experts, please send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or mail a postcard to It’s About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca Road, Austin, TX 78748.