Growing Tea Plants

I drink a fair amount of tea, as you probably know if you’ve been hanging around my blog long. Recently I read this article about pesticides and tea, which kind of freaked me out. I decided the only solution was to start growing my own tea. Then it wouldn’t have any pesticides on it—maybe just a little dog pee. I found Camellia Forest, an online nursery that sells tea plants (Camellia sinensis), and ordered three. Along with three healthy little plants my package contained detailed care instructions and directions for preparing green, black, and oolong teas. I’m so impressed with this nursery! My only complaint is that the instructions were typed up in Papyrus, but I can’t expect everyone to be a font snob, right? I definitely recommend ordering from there if you want to try growing tea. Now is the time to plant!

Hopefully next year I’ll get to harvest my own tea leaves and write up a post about preparing them. It’s a bit more complicated than I thought it would be, but I’m excited to try making my own fancy schmancy tea!

growing tea plants

growing tea plants

growing tea plants

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  1. Taylor Sijan

    I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that you could grow your own tea plants… I’ve made my own herbal mixtures, but I think I know what my next year’s summer garden is going to have..!

  2. Emma H

    I LOVE tea!!! I have been growing my own mint and just put the leaves in the hot water and I like it much better then bagged tea with lots of pesticides!

  3. Chelan

    When we built our house in Seattle, I wanted to plant tea in the yard. If not for the actual tea harvest, then for the glossy leaves, white flowers and lovely tea smell. Then our lives took a little detour and we’ve moved to a much smaller place SF for a while. -And now you’ve made me think about maybe growing some in planters on the roof :) So nice to have a recommendation of a nursery. Thank you!

    1. Tim Judge

      Would love to buy seeds ,
      two questions :

      one: how hard are they to germinate (splg?)
      I have ordered tobacco seeds in past I could never get to grow.

      two: do you know best soil to grow tea in ?
      and the climate

      We live on the coast in Hilton Head Island South Carolina

      Thanks for listening to all my questions

  4. Sarah rose storm

    I can’t wait to hear how this is going. I am a chain drinker when it comes to tea. I am afraid for the same reason I don’t own a cupcake shop that I would eat all my product, I might drink all my leaves instead of letting them grow first ;)

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      A year later, only two of my three tea plants survived. Those two haven’t grown at all though, because the leaves are constantly being eaten by insects. I can see why so many tea growers resort to using pesticides. :( Sorry I don’t have any helpful tips to share!

  5. Sarah

    omg… Papyrus? I share your dismay. You COULD try a garlic spray for your plants, lots of bugs don’t like that. You’d have to make sure to give them a rinse before you make your tea though!

    1. James Johann III

      I have many organic garners ask this question all the time. I work in a hydroponic store and you have two types of customers. The Chemical fans and the organic fans. No insults on either side . Everyone has there way of doing things. I wouldn’t recommend using tobacco teas as a foliate spray. As u might just contract tobacco mosaic virus. Neem oil is good and a little soy lecithin acts as an emulsifier and makes oil and water mix. Also if you don’t mind spraying a few times a week pyrethrin sprays work well . The pyrethrin comes from crasanthamon (spelling sorry it’s late) it’s only toxic to bugs while wet. When dried it’s evaporates off. You could also Co plant wild tobacco that does in fact raise it’s nicotine levels when being munched. Hopefully bugs take hints. Or you could use weaker pvc pipe to make a half circkle ( hoop house or tunnel )and mount mosquito nets.
      There many ways alot of it depends on your willingness to make it happen. If you could identify the pest. You said eating leaves so I’m guessing caterpillars. You can use organic powders to dust them. Also baciluthurengensus spray. That’s a bacteria that makes bugs barf and what not to death. It’s what Monsanto was able to genetically modify into corn with so any thing that eats the greens of corn leaf miners caterpillars and so.the plant produces its own natural pesticide even kills white Flys boring insects so on so forth the insect ingests it and it is like dysentery for insects. Birds eat the bugs and it doesn’t have an effect on them. Bacilusthurengensis occurs naturally and isn’t harmful to people (that I’m aware of) look it up be sure for yourself) ims3cts are starting to show reaistance to it now but it comes in dust form so you can use an old school hand duster or in liquid for that you dilute and spray.
      I personally share half my garden with bugs. I’ve planted milk thistle and grape vines also a wild flower seed mix. One half of yard is Sonoran desert for the bugs and butterfly especially the 8ft by 8ft butterfly drive thru. To help their migration. But the other stuff I cultivate is mine. N if I really want it protected it goes into the heppa filtered hoop house 20ft by 10 ft. I’m gonna start my tea there and get it large and established before setting it to fend for its self. Outside of green house . N see if it does .my biggest concern here is the 120 deg heat and almost constant dryness. But a few very small misters can help that. Or shade nets so so forth.

  6. Dawniel Kupsch

    Hey there- came across your story via Pinterest and saw your comments on the trials of insects eating your lovely plants. I have read that buying chewing tobacco, then making a ‘tea’ from it- then spraying down any plants the bugs like to chew on is an excellent natural pesticide that does not harm your plants. It makes sense as nicotine occurring naturally in tobacco plants is actually an insect poison- which is why it is so bad for us! Anyway- perhaps something you can try if you are still keen on making your own :)

  7. Jo Pudans

    I live in central Iowa. What types of climate works best? What if I grew these strictly indoors? Or in a pot and brought them in during winter months? Also how big do these grow to be?

  8. Sharon Tente-Clarke

    Can you grow the tea tree’s inside? Because we are zone 3/4 and not sure if they would survive in the winter outside.

  9. Emily Rae

    Great to come across this blog and so many people interested in these lovely plants.

    I grow (and sell) tea plants in the UK and they are surprisingly easy to look after. Pests (we find caterpillars and surprisingly spiders) can be a problem. We spray with a natural plant insecticide SB Plant invigorator which we find very effective and also hang sticky traps when the butterflies are out. A mild washing up liquid solution would work too.

    In answer to Jo and Sharon, tea really doesn’t do well indoors unfortunately but they are surprisingly hardy. The hardiest variety is camellia sinensis var. sinensis (the most commonly sold and I believe the one in the picture above) which will survive temperatures down to -15C in winter. In fact we have many customers growing outside in Northern Scotland with very cold winters and a lot of snow.

    If you are growing in a pot you can always wrap the pot and bring it near to the house the first couple of winters until it has become more established. We also find that tea plants do best in part shade rather than full sun and although like all camellias they do best in acidic soil they are not as fussy as people think. They are slow growing but normally once they get to 4 years old they become more substantial bushes and at that stage you can start harvesting.

    Would love to hear whether your plants recovered in the end Amanda?

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      Thank you for sharing your tea growing wisdom with us! My tea plants are still small, but not dead yet. ;) They seemed to have more leaves this year than last year and the bugs left them alone. Hopefully they’ll make it to 4 years—2 down!

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