Growing Tea Plant
Tea has been cultivated in China for centuries (2009 estimates put it at around 5,000 years). Originally, the most common tea varieties were produced from the Camellia sinensis plant, a type of camellia.
Standard teas, not herbal infusions made from other types of herbs and plants, are processed using a number of steps to make the varieties you're used to like: green, black and oolong. Processing is one of the main determiners of a tea's flavor and medicinal properties. Green and white teas are taken from very young leaves, undergo less processing, and aren’t fermented. They are typically considered better for you and are more expensive.
Propagating Tea Plants
Camellia sinensis, or tea plant, needs acidic soil and lots of water. It will grow outside in Zones 8 or higher. Sow seeds in spring when nighttime temperatures reach 55 degrees F or more. Soak seeds in water for a day or so before planting, and keep purchased seeds moist and viable in the refrigerator before planting out. When you start seeds, try placing them in small pots indoors in a sunny window with a combination of perlite and orchid mix. Mist them frequently. Seeds sprout in four to six weeks.
Plant seedlings four feet apart in a sunny to partially shaded spot in sandy soil with a pH of 5 to 6. Make sure the location you choose has protection from the wind and that the soil drains well. Tea camellias are slow starters and can take up to three years to begin producing when grown from seed.
You can also purchase cuttings or young plants online. The tea camellia can grow to 10 feet and live for well over 100 years, so make sure its final home has plenty of room to spread out.
Harvesting Tea from Homegrown Plants
Depending on your climate, tea plants will leaf out at least once a year, usually in spring. This new, young growth is what you'll want to harvest for tea.
A good rule of thumb is that if you can grow camellias in your climate, you can probably grow tea plants.
Growing Tea Plants Indoors
You can keep tea plants in pots and bring them indoors to overwinter in areas that experience a hard frost. Be sure to give them sandy soil and top with a layer of mulch or moss to retain moisture. Your camellia will need a cool indoor winter location that has good light. If you can't provide six hours of light a day, try a spot away from heat and invest in a grow light for your plant. Plants go dormant in winter and stop producing foliage.
In spring, gradually adapt your plant to living outside by leaving it outdoors for longer and longer periods. If you want to keep your plant indoors year round, you will have to give it good light and lots of humidity. Although this can be a tall order, there are success stories out there about tea camellias growing happily indoors in someone's sunny window for years.
In spring, make sure to harvest new growth to keep the plant small enough to stay in its pot. Although it will probably eventually outgrow its container, you can keep the plant small by harvesting young leaves when they appear.
I really love tea. For a little European flair, try buying heat-tempered glass teacups. They showcase your brew and give teatime a special touch.
*I have also dried green tea leaves in a dehydrator.
Proceed to my next post for tips on drying your tea: Drying Home Grown Tea Leaves
Photo1 - This wonderful photo of a tea plant flower is courtesy of Linda De Volder. You can view Linda's other work at Flickr.
Photo2 - TeaCamelia2_Wiki.jpg By Pancrat (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Camellia_sinensis_Bois_Cheri_.jpg
Labels: Growing Camellia sinensis