Do you enjoy getting your hands in the soil, feeling the earth between your fingers? Do you often have a cup (or tumbler) of tea nearby as you do? There’s a wonderful way to combine your love of tea with your passion for gardening--that’s by growing your own tea bush at home! With the below tips from our friends at nearby Minto Island Tea Company, pioneers of growing and crafting tea here in the US, you’ll have your very own Camellia sinensis sprouting in no time.
Can you grow tea plants at home?
The answer is a resounding “yes!” The plant from which all true tea is made, Camellia sinensis, grows to be a large shrub or small tree but is most often kept to a manageable height of 3 to 5 feet in cultivated hedges.
How do you plant a tea bush?
As with most shrubs, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball but only as deep. Plant the root ball so the top is level with the soil height. Backfill with mostly native soil, amended with some well-aged compost. During the establishment phase, mulch the tea plant with sawdust, leaves, or compost, especially in early autumn before temperatures drop. The ideal planting time for tea plants in the Pacific Northwest is between April and late-August. If planted too soon or too late, plants may be susceptible to frost injury before becoming well-established.
What type of soil works best for planting tea?
Camellia sinensis grows in acidic soils, ideally with a pH of 4.5-6. If you have blueberries growing, you can probably grow tea. To prevent root rot, the plant requires adequate drainage. And in some wetter sites, you can consider a raised bed with extra compost amendments.
How far apart should plants be spaced?
For hedge plantings in a production setting, individual saplings can be spaced between 1.5 feet to 3 feet apart. But for regular, in-home use with just a few plants, allow for five feet in between each plant. We suggest pruning frequently to encourage branching and numerous growing tips--optimal tea plucking conditions!
How much light does a tea plant need?
Tea plants grow best in the mountains, which offer cycles of strong sunlight and heavy rains. Here in the Pacific Northwest, try for sites with full sun to partial shade. Try to avoid garden plots that are fully shaded, as a lack of sunlight will reduce the plant’s vigor.
How much water does a tea plant need?
For the first two years, before the plant is well-established, water 2 to 3 times per week throughout the summer. Make sure the entire root ball is soaked through. Once the plant is established, regular watering in dry summers will encourage more growth of new shoots. Take care not to over water.
What are tea flowers used for?
The flowers are typically white and somewhat reminiscent in shape to the ornamental camellia, only smaller. While our expert tea growers in India and Nepal regularly pluck before the flowers blossom (ensuring the plant’s energy is going to its leaves), it’s okay to leave the showy flowers on your tea bush. In fact, the blooms can be made into a delicious, relaxing brew that is smooth and sweet. If you’re regularly harvesting the leaves for tea processing, you'll often be removing the stem, tips, or buds before the plant even flowers. If you want to have the tea plants around for their ornamental charm, then leaving the flowers be and allowing them to bloom will make for an even more attractive plant.
Where can I buy a tea plant?
Minto Island also sells tea saplings! However, they’ve already pre-sold all their available stock for 2020. Some other resources for purchasing saplings and seeds:
- Camellia Forest Nursery
- Tea Plants to Go
- Fast Growing Trees
- Angela, founder of Oregon Tea Traders, often sells plants in our hometown of Eugene, Oregon
You might also be interested in:
- Get Minto Island Tea Company’s tips for processing your tea leaves into tea you can drink.
- To really geek out on growing tea, check out the US League of Tea Growers.