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How To Grow Tea (Camellia Sinensis)

Tea


I’m obsessed with the idea of growing my own caffeine!  I’m addicted, there are no two ways about it.  And I really love my coffee and tea.  But it’s not grown locally, to be sure.  I ordered seeds last year, but we moved right after I planted them.  And they never came up.  So this weekend, I bought a seedling to plant with my mother’s ornamentals.  As a camellia, it should fit right in!


I thought I’d share some of the research I did last year about growing tea….


Types of Tea


Green Tea, Black Tea, Oolong Tea and White Tea all come from the same plant.  Surprise!  They all come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis.  There are two different varieties of the plant:  Sinensis sinensis and sinensis assamica.  The former has smaller leaves and thrives in cool, high mountains (eg, central China and Japan); the latter is a much taller plant and thrives in the lower elevations of moist, tropical regions (eg, Northeast India, and the Szechuan and Yunnan provinces of China).  There are also hybrids of the two varieties.


Picking Tea


Where Does It Grow?


Camellia sinensis is indigenous to China, Tibet, and northern India.  The major tea growing regions today include India, China, Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, Kenya, Turkey, Argentina, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe…. and more.


That said, you can grow it outdoors in Zone 8 or above.  Or if you’re colder than that, you can grow it in a greenhouse or a pot that you bring indoors in the winter.  They’re a camellia, so if you grow camellias, chances are you can grow tea!


Camelia Sinensis flower


What Does It Look Like?


The fragrant flowers are white with yellow stamens inside (above).  The leaves are shiny and dark green, with new growth being much lighter. The fruits are small and hard, looking similar to a hazelnut (below).  The seeds are about 1/4” in diameter.  The sinensis variety can reach a maximum height of 10 feet or so; the assamica variety (think Assam tea) are much larger:  up to 65 feet tall.  So, for a garden plant, you’re probably going to want to go for the sinensis.


Camelia Sinensis fruits


How Do You Grow It?


Propagation


You can propagate tea from cuttings or from seeds.  According to the flier I received with my seeds from Whatcom Seed Company: “Sow seeds 3/4” deep in standard soil mix with coarse sand added.  Keep damp.  Ideal night temperature of 55F, day 68F.  High humidity and filtered sun.  Fertilize often.  Ideal pH 5-6.”


Cultivation


Plants should be placed approximately 3 feet apart in a sunny to semi-shaded area.  Plant them so that a house, wall, tree, or something else will protect them from strong wind.  They should be pruned back every four years to rejuvenate the bush and keep it at a convenient height.


Harvest


Tea plants have a growth phase and a dormant phase.  The dormant phase is in the winter, so as soon as shoots (“flush”) emerge in the spring, the new growth is plucked for tea.  In hotter climates, there may be several flushes per year.  The two uppermost leaves and the new buds are picked during each flush.


Here’s the tricky part for the home gardener: propagating a tea plant from seed is like propagating asparagus, rhubarb, or a number of other perennials from seed.  It takes time.  If you grow a tea plant from seed, it can take three years before your plant is ready to harvest.  So until then, think of it as an investment, and experiment, or just a nice plant.  If that sounds like too long for you, you can buy a plant or propagate from a cutting.


Given the right conditions, a tea plant can grow and produce for 50-100 years.  Wild tea plants have been found to be as old as 1,700 years.


Tea Leaves


Where To Find Seeds & Plants



Note:  these later two seed/plant sources are new to me, so I don’t know anything about their reputability.


More Resources



Tea Blogs



Tea in Pot


When I figure out how to harvest them, I will certainly write about it.  Anyone know?


Similar Posts:

50 comments to How To Grow Tea (Camellia Sinensis)

  • We grow tea in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Not operations like the places you mention in the blog post but yo can go visit the farm. Cool place http://www.bigelowtea.com/act/

  • Actually there is local tea. A field was planted experimentally by Sakuma’s in Skagit County. They mostly grow berries. I don’t remember how many plants they put in, but it was several hundred. When I talked to one of the owners about it several years ago he said at that time one of the problems they were having was how to process it. There were directions on line for doing a small batch somewhere on line. I don’t remember where though. :( To harvest you pick the tips of the new growth. The tiny little ones. That’s one reason tea can be so expensive!

    Sakuma’s did process and sell it one year at their farm stand. My mom bought me some. It’s pretty good. I don’t know what they are doing currently with it, but I could find out.

    I planted two tea plants this year. I got them from Burnt Ridge Nursery (Washington state nursery). They are doing great. I am going to put some type of wind protection up around them this winter.

  • I believe Crunchy bought a plant from a nursery this year, spurring my interest. I will probably invest in a few next fall.

    Very nice, comprehensive post!

  • monica

    I loved this post. I too am starting to grow my own. I love coffee and drink far too much of it–maybe I won’t drink so much if I have to work to get it! LOL I ordered my plant through Gurneys seed. It takes a awhile for beans to form, but I’ll treasure the flavor.

  • jenn

    Rockridge Orchards out of enumclaw has had plants for sale both at the ballard and u-district markets. They had Camelia Sinensis and szeyaun pepper and some sort of sour orange citrus. http://rockridgeorchards.com/RockridgeTeas.aspx

    just in case the seed starting fails or your too impatient to wait.

  • Zoe

    What a great post! I bought a coffee plant last year and then got all excited about growing tea, but a woman at one of our local nurseries told me you couldn’t buy tea plants around here. Now I am seriously doubting that information! Thanks for renewing my interest and all of the great growing information too.

  • Compostinmyshoe, Awesome – thanks for the link.
    Deb G, I found an article about Sakuma tea here. But nothing more recent – I wonder how it went! Very interesting. Would love to know more.

    Risa B, Thanks. : ) If nothing else, at least we’ll have some pretty camellias!

    monica, I bought coffee seeds at the same time I bought tea, but it, too, never came up. I think the seeds dried out in the move. I am determined to try coffee again – maybe next year. Let us know how it goes!

    Jenn, Great info – thank you. I have a friend who is looking for a local source for tea seedlings – perfect! I’ve also added a link into the post above.

    Zoe, One of my biggest rules of gardening is “don’t believe everything you’re told.” LOL. Have fun! And let us know how the coffee grows!

  • [...] One Green Generation is growing tea. [...]

  • OK, I wanted to grow some tea too but a friend told me that she had done research into and read that the quality of tea when grown in our region wasn’t the best because (I’m assuming because of our weather and soil?) Have you heard anything about the quality of it here?

  • Annie

    If any of you live in the Los Angeles area, I bought my Camellia Sinensis plant from Nuccio’s Nursery in Altadena. They had a ton of them there. I haven’t harvested any of the leaves yet (I’ve read that you shouldn’t harvest until the plant is at least 3 years old), and granted, my is still pretty small and lanky.

  • [...] (instructions to grow these are here, if you’re interested) [...]

    • Hi Annie, you posted in 2009; it’s been three years. How has your tea plant turned out? Is the tea tasty? Would you recommend that others practice tea growing in L.A.?

  • Molly

    Here’s what I know about tea manufacture, in case it helps anyone:

    Tea is made by first 1 – picking, then 2 – withering, 3 – rolling, 4 – oxidizing (black, oolong, pouchong) 5 – drying, and finally 6 – sorting and grading. Not all teas are oxidized, and of those that are, there is a vast array of oxidation levels. A light pouchong may be oxidized only 8%, whereas a nice black Keemun is fully oxidized at 100%.

    Black tea is first picked, by either machine or by hand, and the leaves are spread out on wire screens or grids and left to wither, often with hot air blown across by fans. This is the withering stage (step 2) and it is done to remove much of the moisture from the leaves and render them pliable. It takes up to 24 hours and removes 30-50% of the moisture content.
    The next stage (step 3) is rolling. The withered leaves are either rolled by hand or by a rolling machine which twists the leaf in order to bruise and break them. This has the effect of allowing the juices of the leaf to flow out onto the surface and begin to oxidize. The essential oils are also released, partially accounting for the aroma.
    The tea is then spread out in trays in thin layers up to 4″ deep, and left for a period of time to oxidize (step 4). Some teas are left to oxidize outside in the shade, and some are oxidized inside the buildings, it all depends on the processing plant and the tea being made. As tea oxidizes, it generates heat. Temperature is critical at this stage, if it is too high, the tea will spoil; too low and the tea will be flavorless. It is up to the expertise of the supervisor of the processing plant to know when to halt this oxidation step. It has been reported that it takes 3 years of making tea to learn just when to halt one step and proceed on to another. Once the tea is oxidized to the satisfaction of the supervisor, it is dried (step 5).
    The tea can be dried in a warm furnace or oven, or over a fire, or even in a large wok, but it is dried by whatever means used and it is this step which stops the oxidation process. The sap which flowed out in the rolling process dries on the leaves and they turn from coppery-brown to black. The remaining moisture in the leaves is driven off and the final result is the dried black leaf we measure out for tea.
    Last but not least, the tea is graded. Orthodox methods produce all manner of leaf sizes and therefore all grades of tea. It is important to sort the tea into the various grades in order to be able to steep the tea properly. Larger leaf sizes steep more slowly than smaller sizes, so you can see that a mixture of leaf sizes would not make a quality cup of tea no matter how fine the tea leaves.

    My all time favorite tea is an oolong that is fired in a huge wok, I don’t see why a frying pan wouldn’t work just as well. Experiment with small amounts of your tea and time everything and write everything down so you will remember what you did.

    I hope this is helpful, take care all.

  • larry febrera

    i enjoy your article about camelia senensis. I am from Davao City, Philippines. there are two plants I am interested but had not been successful in obtaining seeds or cuttings, the yerba mate of argentina and other south american countries and camelia senensis.
    i hope you can help me where i can buy.

    thank you

    larry

  • I’m from Manila, Philippines. Laary, you can buy camelia senensis and other plants/seeds from Manila Seedling Bank located along EDSA, Quezon City. You can contact them http://www.msbfi.com/contact.htm on how or where you can buy seeds without going to Manila.

  • Based on a few of the comments I wanted to let everyone know that Sakuma Brothers is growing and producing tea in the Skagit Valley of Washington state. We currenlty have over 5 acres of tea plants. We do not sell the plants but do offer tea for sale at our Market Stand and hopefully soon on our online store. If you would like more information on our tea please visit our web site at: http://sakumamarketstand.com/sakuma-market-tea-green-tea.htm

    If you are interest in purchasing our tea online, please post us a comment requesting it: http://shop.sakumabros.com/contact-us.aspx

    Thanks.

  • Nima

    Thank you so much for this information. It is more helpful than any other source I’ve found online.

  • Douglas

    @Sakuma

    Thanks man, i’ve been wanting to find out where i could buy camelia sinesis here in manila

  • d su

    I read a lot of information on tea harvesting and processing. I wonder can you use a freshly picked tea leave and just use it without any processing at all?

  • I liked this post. We are avid lover of coffee and for someone who consumes 6-8 cups, the article sticks. We liked your style of writing too! Great job!!

  • Great post. I love camellias so I may add sinensis to my collection and get the benefit of tea too!

  • Rhev

    Hi everyone!

    i would like to ask if where i can find camellia sinensis here in the Philippines. i already called the Manila Seedling Bank but they told me that they don’t have any plant like that. I really need this plant for our research in school. if someone could really help me as soon as possible, i and my group would really appreciate it a lot..

    Thanks.

  • Our family has been propagating tea for about 7 years now. We have a nursery dedicated to tea in Florida.
    Our web site is http://www.greenteaplants.com (the above site “seedsleavesandflowers.com” listed in the where to find tea plants is our old site. Blessings , Steve

    • Sara Cooper

      Hi Mr. Steve,

      I live in San Antonio TX, and since our climates are about the same through most of the state I’m wondering if I could grow tea here?

      I’d love to have your opinion.

  • betty presnell

    we visited the charleston tea plantation a week ago. They are the only growers of tea in the UNITED STATES!:) We learned that some tea plants live for over 300 years!:) They took us on a tour of the plantation & they have a wonderful shop with many tastes of tea for sale. They also have their great tea to drink, both sweetened & unsweetened. WE are now trying to grow some tea for ourselves at home. This ‘tea’ site is VERY good. Thank you—betty

    • I just stumbled across this post. I wanted to make one minor clarification. The Charleston tea plantation is not the only tea growers in the United States. Sakuma Bros. Farms in Burlington WA. also commercially grows tea. Admittedly, we are much smaller than the Charleston tea plantation. We are about an hour north of Seattle. Stop by and tour our fields. Please let us know if you have any questions.

  • Much interesting information – thanks, y’all.
    Here is some further information on tea cultivation and sources.
    Dr. Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the university of Georgia, lists Camellia sinensis as being hardy in USDA zones 6 – 9. Some of the other literature I have encountered leads me to suspect that hardiness is somewhat dependent on the particular cultivar. (cultivar = cultivated variety) I have seen some listed as hardy in zone 6, others only to zone 8. According to the literature, plant size is also to some extent cultivar dependent. Tea plants are available at some nurseries here in the Richmond, Virginia area, notably Colesville Nursery, http://www.colesvillenursery.com/ occasionally at others.
    Camellia Forest in Chapel Hill, North Carolina http://www.camforest.com/ lists a number of different cultivars with descriptions of each one, and has a great deal of information on tea cultivation and its history as well. As far as I know, they can ship tea plants anywhere in the country.
    I have yet to have opportunity to specify Camellia sinensis for any of my clients, (I have a business doing eco-friendly garden design, installation and maintenance in Richmond, Virginia. http://jmbgreengardens.com) but I have every reason to believe that it would thrive here, (zone 7a) as do both Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua, when sited appropriately. I think Camellia sinensis could probably take more sun than either of the others. Like most plants they would of course need to be kept watered until established – especially for the first year or two, and would benefit from some supplemental irrigation during dry spells after that. In Richmond, unless it is exceptionally dry, they should not need watering November through March. If planted in November or March, water them in, of course. Drip irrigation or a soaker hose would not be a bad idea.
    In planting, I would treat them like other camellias and, unless they are planted on a pretty fair slope, plant them high – with the top of the root ball where the stem meets the soil two to three inches above the surrounding soil and the soil sloped down away from it. This goes for most plants in this climate, or anyplace with moderate to heavy rainfall – remember that a plant’s roots can go down for water but they cannot climb up out of it, and that too much wet is more often fatal than too much dry. A mulch is pretty much essential – two to three inches of fine pine bark or pine tags should be good, shredded hardwood could work. Don’t pile the mulch up near the stem – it should be thin there and at full depth further out. Some fine pine bark worked into the soil before planting is not a bad idea for camellias, as well as azaleas, blueberries and other acid loving shrubs. I suspect tea plants would not be happy in alkaline soils.
    Here are some links for more on the processing of tea. http://coffeetea.about.com/od/preparation/a/growingtea.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camellia_sinensis
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_tea
    I hope that is helpful.
    Jay

  • Kyoungsik Pak

    Hello!
    I am a retired pharmacist. I have been developing some products for health benefits using green tea. I developed a formulation with green tea powder, amino acids and Vitamins for relieving allergy symptoms, Two years ago, I discovered this product cured early stage common cold such as runny nose, sneezing, coughing,sore throat… within a few hours without
    side effects. Some day we can have common cold curing medicine without side effect. Green tea is a wonderful
    plant for humen health.

  • fastmari

    hoping someone has had business with the Cottage Farms, who I ordered tea and coffee and stevia 3″ pots from, as a set, for just $19, I couldn’t talk myself out of it, and was just trying to find out what i bought, and tea is Camellia sinensis. Researching that, I was delighted to find out that the “green tea” my daughter drinks is what comes from Camellia sinensis. Now, on your webpage, I found more info than Wiki or anywhere else, and succinctly, too, a relief. My daughter drinks caffeinated green tea, though I’ve warned her of some of the dangerous processes used to reduce the caffeine content. Hoping to find an innocuous home-process to decaf the tea, and that is on the chance that i won’t kill my little plants before it can become useful

    • dale

      I know this is a pretty old message but, one thing you can do to remove caffein from your tea. Brew your tea for 30 seconds then poor out the water and then add fresh hot water that will remove about 80% of the caffein in your freshly brewed tea.

  • [...] know, camellias are very pretty hardy plants… and they live forever! according to this blog (which further referenced this website), the camellia TEA plan (c. sinensis, that is) can live for [...]

  • Kuri G

    WOW!
    I just got the “grow my own green tea bug” last night and was wondering just about everything that was answered here. I’m most excited to find out they will grow where I live!! For now, I just want to grow one plant. I’m in the Seattle area and I’m a member at a community garden.

    Reading this prompted a couple more questions – hopefully a couple people out there with experience will stumble upon this:
    1: How much space does one plant need? (I have a triangular plot about 150sf)
    2: How much tea might one plant yield? (Just wondering – no dreams of grandeur at all!)
    3: I assume it would be OK to just add course sand to the section of my plot where I would want to plant the Camellia Sinensis – how much to how large an area should I add?

    • dale

      Growing tea in Seattle, You’ll need luck for sure. Saguma Farms has very special and quite unique tea plants. They took years to develope them in a cold climate. They lost 100′s of plant 2 years ago. Try getting a seed or cutting from them , maybe. Good luck! Saguma Farms near Mount Vernon (north of)
      Q1 Space…1st yr. 2-3 sq.ft., 2-3rd.yr. 3-6 sq.ft. 3-4th.yr. 9-12.sq.ft. (Ideal) their slow grower. This if they do really good. #2Q Yeild.When there 3-4 years old and hedged, so lets say 3 ft high and 3X3 flat cut on the top and full flush ( alot of new growth growing straight up. a hand full to maybe 2-3 oz max. of finished processed tea (green or black). You have to remember your only using the tiny tops. Q3.. A nice clean soils fine but use Acidic fertilizer and chicken manure (N), soil with good drainage, in Seattle full sun if possible….Have fun….Dale

  • Nancy

    Hi there, wondering if anyone knows where I can buy live tea plants in Toronto,Canada. I need sprigs of leaves for a film shoot in late July.
    Thanks very much,
    Nancy

  • Thanks for the info on tea, I actually live in a tea and coffee growing area (how lucky am I). The Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland Australia, we have a tea plantation nearby Nerada Tea, the fields looks so pretty with their uniform height of bushes, looks like someone has gone OCD with their hedge, and we have coffee plantations, so in theory I can grow both.
    At the moment we are renting so have my coffee bushes in pots, apparently 12 bushes will keep a family in coffee for a year, and yesterday I went to the tea plantation and took some cuttings (from a bush near the carpark that was there for show not for crop), I hope they strike.
    bye for now Lou

  • paula

    Thsnks so much for this useful information.
    I live near Melbourne. For those Australian readers keen on finding camelia sinensis- you can buy little ones through the Diggers Club.
    Does anyone know how to make green tea?

  • Mohan

    The site is useful indeed. Thanks a lot. I live in Sydney and want to try my hand at growing tea. As a young boy during summer vacations I would visit my grand dad’s tea gardens in Coonoor, in the Nilgiri hills in India. I invariably returned with a sapling / seedling and planted it in the back yard of our house, which was close to the beach. Even after tender loving care the plant could not survive. I was told that the plant is sensitive to salt.

  • Jim

    Is there any information available on studies that have been done to understand the various quality aspects of a tea bush as it relates to the extractable solids and polyphenols/catechins content of dried tea which is useed in soluble tea manufacturing. I was recently in Argentina and the focus is on crop yield vs. dried leaf quality.

  • Timothy Faber & San Mei On

    My partner, San Mei was taught traditional Chinese herbalism as a little girl, by mainland parents, grand and even great grandparents. She has successfully fought cancer, and now 12 years later, its a intra-uterine mass we are up against, but its benign.
    For years, she made concotions in her kitchen that I hated the smell of, much less the taste.
    But she always got me to drink it.
    My brother and mother are MD’s and don’t know what the hell is going on with me. I’m 47, and I am told I look 28 to 34, and only have a few gray hairisms even now.
    Unlike all my brothers, my father and grandfather, I have no big belly, I don’t work out yet I appear healthier n skin tone, body shape, and uh, amount and color of hair than my brothers.
    Looking for a fountain of youth ?
    Mines in a bush, not a fountain.
    Jeez I wish Western medicine would stop screwing around with talking people into using synthesized chemicals with NO phytochemicals and NO micrnutrients, and pay more attention to what really, really WORKS !!!
    2+ Million years of evolution can’t be wrong – a hunter-gatherer diet, and utilization of natures pharmacology is what we were brought up on.
    Every non-industrialized, non commercialized Nation on the planet realizes this because it has No choice. Yet we have such a plethora of natural pharma, and synthesized, at our displosal, and all it seems to be is like “giving Doctors books, and all they do is eat the covers.”
    Who are we kidding, follow the money.
    There is an 80% cure for breast cancer, its called 10 mg or 1 common grocery store mushroom a day. (Dr. Furhman, PBS). Yeah it was a Double blind study. YUP ! It would’ve made headlines, except for the fact that there is so much money on keeping us as “pet” worker bees that are sick, overweight, diabetic, and depressed, and natural remedies are against the law, once they are classified as a “disease” by the Gov’t – that we supposedly pay for, represents our best interest, and entrust for our welfare.

    I say, get back to “our roots”. And our “plants”. And living well without constant medication by a system that inherently only makes money when we are sick.

    Whoa – I kind of went off there.. kinda’ good to finally get it off my chest though.
    Take care all – and may all the love and blessings in this life be bestowed upon you and your loved ones…
    Timothy and San Mei.

    *Dr.

  • Charlene

    Hi!
    I am “getting into homesteading” in South Carolina. Does anyone in the area have plants or cuttings they can ship to meor I can pick up? I’d rather start from the plant than the seed due to the three year time period for cultivation. Thank you in advance!! My email is chd64@pbtcomm.net

  • Karma Wangchuk

    Hi I m from Bhutan,I know that I can grow tea in my country, but the problem is that so far nobody has grown tea till date in Bhutan. I would like to know what are the possibilities of growing and sending the product in international market? Need feedback- karmalatawangchuk@gmail.com

  • Jenna

    I purchased my tea seeds from http://richters.com/ and had them shipped to FL. I was a bit concerned since they were in transit 2-3 weeks and green tea seeds have a very limited viability, but I had about an 80-90% germination rate on their bulk camellia sinensis seeds. (Must admit, I was not expecting 100+ seeds). A local plant nursery (Forest Hills Tree Farm) ordered tea plants for me through Pine Islands Nursery out of Miami (which has both large leaf & small leaf tea), which I believe does mail order as well. Logees and Edible Landscaping also sell green tea plants and are mail order.

  • [...] to see:How To Grow Tea (Camellia Sinensis) : Medical uses: *The leaves have been used in traditional Chinese medicine and other medical [...]

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