Women picking tea leaves in a plantation of central Sri Lanka
How to grow the tea plant from seed

Tea may no longer be the hot beverage of choice in England, but there are still approximately 165 million cups drunk within this emerald isle every single day.

A blend of Assam, Java, and Ceylon teas
How to grow the tea plant from seed
So with a nice hot cup of tea still up there across the nation why not consider growing your own tea plants and producing your own brew from freshly harvested leaves?

The botanical name for the tea plant is Camellia sinensis, the genus name of which will be familiar to most gardeners for its floriferous cousins.

Now despite popular images of Tea plants being picked in exotic, tropical locations, it is a surprisingly hardy species capable of surviving all but the harshest winters that the UK can throw at it.

How to grow tea from seed

First purchase 'as fresh as you can' tea seeds from a reputable seed supplier. Then before sowing, soak the seeds in tepid water for a day or so. Using a good quality, ericaceous, soil-based seed compost fill a large modular seed tray of 9 cm pots. Alternatively, create your own compost by mixing 50:50 John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' compost and Ericaceous compost. Press one seed into the centre of each pot or module with the eye of each seed facing upwards and cover with a thin layer or vermiculite, horticultural grade lime-free grit, perlite or compost.

Tea plant (Camellia sinensis) from Köhler's Medicinal Plants, 1897
How to grow the tea plant from seed
Gently water in and to help retain moisture, humidity as well as a warm rooting medium to encourage timely germination, place the tray or pots inside a heated propagator with a temperature at approximately 16-18 degrees Celsius. Alternatively, seal inside a clear polythene bag and place on a warm, bright windowsill, but out of direct of full sun. Water using a mister to keep the compost permanently moist but never allow it to become waterlogged. Tea seeds will germinate once overnight temperatures rise above 12 degrees Celsius, emerging from 4-6 weeks onwards.

Once germinated, remove the pot from the polythene bag or propagator. Modular sown tea seeds will need to remain until most of the seeds have germinated but you will need to keep an eye for fungal infections which can flourish in the warm humid conditions.

Once the roots have established in the modules they can be carefully lifted and potted on into 9 cm pots containing good quality soil-based ericaceous compost and moved into a protected environment such as an unheated greenhouse. Keep the compost moist and feed with an ericaceous liquid soluble fertiliser every week or two during the growing season. Once the plants have grown to approximately 30 cm high they will be ready for planting outside into their final position. However they must be acclimated to outdoor conditions over a couple of weeks by exposing them to direct sunshine beginning with one to two hours a day until they can withstand full sun

Tea plants will perform best in a sunny, sheltered position in sandy soil with a pH of 5 to 6.

Main image credit - Christophe Meneboeuf
In text image credit - Selena N. B. H. from Fayetteville, USA
Tea plant (Camellia sinensis) botanical illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants, 1897 - public domain

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