New Year, New Plant

True Confessions

I have to own up to the fact that I have unsuccessfully attempted to grow seven tea plants in a four year time. I researched how to grow a tea plant, used what I thought was the right soil, watered but made sure not to over water the plant, misted, and regulated the exposure to sun. I suppose my dog, Louie, who loved to eat the dirt, pull the leaves off the plant, and drop toys in the plant container, didn’t help matters! I will be documenting and reporting on my tea plant throughout this year. Hopefully these new tea plants will survive my dog and my “green thumb”!

New Plants

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of several tea plants and approximately twenty tea plant seeds within the next two weeks. I am excited about the possibilities for tea plant growth this year. My supplies include: containers to transplant the tea plants and seed in, peat moss, well draining soil, and tree bark mulch. A bag of small rocks will be distributed into the bottom of the pots to ensure good drainage. The plants will be placed on plant stands in order to eliminate my dog from eating the leaves, bark or soil. I will start them indoors probably in an east facing window that has the cooler morning sun. I have a misting bottle ready to mist the plants, mimicking the early morning fog, dew, and moisture filled air that the plants prefer. I am ready; I just need the Camellia sinensis plants.

Growing Regions

Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant native to East and South Asia. It can grow in varying altitudes ranging from sea level to approximately 7,000 feet. The plant successfully grows in tropical or subtropical regions. Tea plants can grow as far north from the equator as the Black Sea region including Turkey, and can grow as far south of the equator as Argentina in South America. The plant grows in regions that have rainfall spaced throughout the growing season, warm humid climates, well drained soil, cool moist mornings and plenty of sunshine. Camellias grow in acidic soil that is hummus rich (fertile with organic material) and kept moist.

Plant Characteristics

Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica are the two primary varietals used for tea production. Camellia sinensis sinensis is a smaller leafed plant originating in China. It is tolerant to cold temperatures, and can grow approximately fifteen feet and grow for close to one hundred years. In China, tea trees have been located growing reaching heights over one hundred feet. Camellia sinensis assamica was first found growing wild in India. It can grow to nearly forty feet in the wild, and it is a more vigorously growing plant, but more sensitive to frost than the Camellia sinensis sinensis varietal. Both varieties of the Camellia plant have elliptical, leathery, serrated glossy leaves. They both produce little white flowers, with yellow stamens. The blooms are removed from the plant, thus reserving all energy into producing leaves. Young tea plants are not plucked or pruned for roughly two years until they reach a  height of five to six feet. There are other varieties and hybrids that have added to the Camellia varieties. Each variety and hybrid of the tea plant has its own unique flavor profile.

In The Tea Garden

While the Camellia sinensis has the potential to grow upwards of one hundred feet in tree form, tea gardens and estates keep the plant height at approximately four feet high. This height allows easier access to the top two leaves and the bud. There are several ways to pluck the tea leaves. Hand plucking the leaves ensures optimal control of the quality of the plucked leaves. Large shears can be used to shear off the outer leaves. Plucking machines that travel up and down rows of tea plants are used to cut off the top growth of the plant.

The tea plants are planted in rows usually spaced approximately four feet apart. They are allowed to increase in width, often growing into the rows next to them. This allows for a larger plucking area on the tea bush, referred to as the plucking table. Depending on the topography of the land, the tea gardens can be terraced.

There are two ways to propagate tea plants. One way is to grow tea plants directly from seeds. The other way is to take a cutting from the bush and force it to take root. This is referred to as clonal planting or vegetative propagation. Clonal planting is the preferred method of propagation because there is control in developing consistent plant characteristics compared to variable cross pollination from seeds.

Tea Plant Yields

The Camellia sinensis assamica is a more prolific plant than the Camellia sinensis sinensis varietal. It typically has a higher yield rate because it is a faster growing plant. In order to produce a pound of processed tea leaves, it requires approximately four and one-half pounds to five pounds of fresh leaves. If using just two leaves and a bud configuration for producing tea; it would mean roughly six thousand shoots would be needed for a pound of tea. One to two thousand pounds of tea leaves plucked on an acre of land is considered a high yield of tea.

HouseHold Yield

I am not expecting a two thousand pound yield from my newly acquired tea plants. I do not have an acre of land with which to attempt to grow my tea plants. I am also attempting to partially grow the tea plants inside during extremely cold months. Lastly, my dog, when seizing access to my tea plants, can adversely and negatively affect the yield from my tea plants. To be honest, between my attempts at growing the plants and keeping the dog from eating the leaves, I will be lucky to garner one usable shoot from each plant per year!

Here’s to “hope springs eternal”. I feel confident that this year, 2021, will be a successful year full of abundant, organic growth. Stay tuned for updates regarding the tea plants and possible dog antics.

January is Hot Tea Month. Happy hot tea month and happy sipping,

Leslie

Quick Postscript

I received the tea seeds today and they need to stratify for sixty days. Stratification, horticulturally defined, is a forced dormancy period that the seed needs to experience in order for it to later sprout. This dormancy period naturally occurs out of doors in cold weather climates.

I chose to force the dormancy period by utilizing a refrigerator. Cold stratification can be conducted by placing seeds in cups partially filled with moist sand or moist paper towels. I used paper towels because I did not have any sand. The seeds were laid on folded moist paper towels, tucked into a zip lock bag, and then placed in the refrigerator. The Camellia sinensis seeds will need to be left in the refrigerator for sixty days of dormancy. My quality control assistant, Louie the dog, has made sure the seed bag was neatly placed in the refrigerator.

About The Author

Leslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea.  No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!

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