By: Amy Grant
Did you know that you can grow your own tea? Tea (Camellia sinensis) is an evergreen shrub native to China that can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 7-9. For those in cooler zones, consider growing tea plants in pots. Camellia sinensis makes an excellent container grown tea plant as it is a smaller shrub that when contained will only reach a height of about 6 feet (under 2 meters). Read on to find out about growing tea at home and tea plant container care.
Tea is grown in 45 countries and is worth billions of dollars to the world’s economy annually. While tea plants are adapted to tropical areas and lowland areas of the subtropics, growing tea plants in pots allows the gardener to control temperatures. Although tea plants are hardy and will generally survive to just under freezing temperatures, they may still be damaged or killed. This means that in cooler climates, tea lovers can grow plants inside provided they give plenty of light and warm temps.
Tea plant harvesting is done in the spring with the new flush of leaves. Only the young green leaves are used to make tea. Winter pruning will not only keep the plant a manageable size for containers, but engender a new burst of young leaves.
Container grown tea plants should be planted in a pot with plenty of drainage holes, that is 2 times the size of the root ball. Fill the bottom third of the pot with well-draining, acidic potting soil. Place the tea plant atop the soil and fill in around it with more soil, leaving the crown of the plant just above the soil.
Place the plant in an area with bright, indirect light and with temperatures about 70 F. (21 C.). Keep the plant well watered, but do not allow the roots to become water logged. Water until the water runs out of the drainage holes. Allow the soil to drain and don’t let the container sit in water. Let the top few inches (5 to 10 cm.) of soil dry between watering.
Fertilize the container grown tea plant during its active growing season, from spring through fall. At this time, apply an acidic plant fertilizer every 3 weeks, diluted to half the strength according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Prune the tea plant yearly after it blooms. Also remove any dead or damaged branches. To restrict the height of the plant and/or to facilitate new growth, prune the shrub back by about half its height.
If the roots begin to outgrow the container, repot the plant into a larger container or trim the roots to fit the pot. Repot as needed, usually every 2-4 years.
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You can find many types of caffeinated tea on the market, and most come from the “tea plant,” Camellia sinensis. This plant is a hardy, evergreen plant with glossy green, pointed, fragrant leaves. In the autumn, the plant displays delicate white flowers, so the shrub has more to offer than just a cup of tea.
The plant originated in China and India. Camellia sinensis sinensis comes from China and prefers cooler temps. Camellia sinensis var. assamica comes from India, and it thrives in warmer areas. It has larger leaves than its Chinese sibling.
When grown outside, these shrubs can reach 15 feet tall, but when grown in containers, most only reach 6 feet tall. In the U.S., the tea plant is commercially cultivated in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and some parts of the Southeast.