Growing Tea Plants
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Brian Hicks
Posted on: June 30, 1999

I have been interested in buying and trying to grow a tea plant, so that I can get fresher tea to drink, but have run across some problems on my search. Hopefully you could help steer me in the right direction. I live in Milwaukee Wisconsin and would like to try growing outside and inside but my searches on growing the plant have come up with very little. The information that I have found is that it is a hardy plant and that it can be grown indoors. I have also found that it is not a direct sunlight plant more that it is medium to low. This is about it. No information on watering or anything. I am taken to belive that it is either not popular to grow, or it is harder than the people I have spoken to say. I have also heard one new piece that may confirm the reason why this plant is not popular to grow and that is what I just read today. According to this page, http://www.chinapages.com/culture/cl_fae.htm, a new tea-plant must grow for five years before its leaves can be picked.

If this is true then I can see why people would shy away from it. I must say that this seems to me more of a preference than a rule, but I was hoping you could shed a bit of light on the subject none the less. What I am looking for is maybe a book I could buy, or even a web-site I could go to. Or even if any of you have any knowledge or experience about this could you please pass it on. I am waiting on this to buy the seeds you have since none of the places around here seem to even have the seeds let alone the plants.

Wisconsin, USA, has climatic zones 4 and 5 in it and therefore you could not overwinter tea out of doors. The plant should be kept in a temperature range from 13 to 30 degrees Celsius (mid 50’s to 85 degrees Fahrenheit). This means you can summer the potted plant out of doors and maybe give a bit of shade for the hottest part of the day during mid-summer.

Use a rich, moist but well-draining, acid soil as your potting medium and water with rain water- to stop the soil from getting too alkaline from the generally high pH tap water.

The plant is a shrub and for that reason it takes a few years before it tops 1 meter (3 feet) at which point anything over that height is ready for trimming. Because it is not hardy in much of North America and Europe, and because it must be grown for several years, and the potential yields from pot grown plants (as opposed to plants grown outdoors in Asia) are low, growing tea plants for tea leaves is of limited appeal to those who like to collect and grow plants but not necessarily for harvest and use.

The seed is very hard to get – I presume because the tea producing countries don’t want to make it too easy for the competition to displace their crops.

The plant is discussed in Deni Bown’s book "Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their uses" (Richters catalogue #B2730). Ms Bown also advises that dried seeds need chipping to get them to germinate and you get the best germination with seeds sown as soon as ripe, or in spring and keep seedflat at 15 to 18 degrees Celsius (59-64 degrees Fahrenheit). She also says that green tea is made from leaves that are steamed and then dried, while black tea is made from fermented dried leaves.

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