Women picking tea leaves in a plantation of central Sri Lanka
How to grow tea 

If you are a keen gardener and love tea then you may be tempted to try and grow your own tea plant - Camellia sinensis, and process the leaf tips for your own consumption. While there are many Camellia species and cultivars familiar to British gardeners, Camellia sinensis is grown mainly in tropical and subtropical climates and as such is not considered hardy. That being said, some tea varieties are surprisingly cold hardy once established and have proven to shrug off all but the worst weather England has to offer. It is also tolerate of coastal climates. As such there are small, specialist tea plantations (using the 'Clonal One' cultivar) under cultivation in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, and rather surprisingly Perthshire in Scotland. You may be interested to know that Perthshire tea company 'The Wee Tea Company' won the honour of being the best tea in the world at the 'Salon de The' awards in Paris in 2015 for their Dalreoch smoked white tea!

A blend of Assam, Java, and Ceylon teas
How to grow tea
Tea plants are usually grown in regions which receive at least 125 cm of rainfall a year in rich, moist soil in full to part sun, so these conditions will need to be replicated as best as possible in the UK with the likelihood of winter protection required.

When left to their own devices, tea plants can reach a height of approximately 15 metres. However, for ease of harvesting, tea plants are usually kept to waist height. It takes 3-4 years for a newly planted tea plant to be established enough to cope with leaf harvesting. Under favourable conditions a tea plant will grow a new flush every seven to 15 days during the growing season. Leaves that are slow in development tend to produce a better-flavoured tea which is why Perthshire tea growers produce some of the best leaves in the world.

How to grow tea plants in containers

To keep it simple for cold protection, consider growing a tea plant in as large pot as you can comfortably move to a protected area when necessary. The key to successful cultivation is the rooting medium. It will need to be well-drained, moisture-retentive, slightly acidic compost. That can be achieved by mixing equal parts John Innes 'No3' compost, ericaceous compost and well-rotted farm manure and lime-free horticultural grit. It will perform best in full sun but will the compost must be kept moist at all times during the growing season to prevent the growing tips from drying out. That being said, do not allow the soil to become waterlogged as the roots can easily perish under this conditions.

Feed with a liquid soluble acidic fertilizer once every couple of weeks during the growing period.

Once temperatures look to start dropping below 7 degrees Celsius move your pot grown specimen to a frost free position such as an unheated greenhouse. Once spring temperatures rise, and the threat of late frosts have passed, your tea plant will need to be acclimated for a week or two before being left outside in their final position.

How to grow a tea plant outside

Despite being associated with tropical and subtropical climates the tea plant is surprisingly robust in all by the worst of our British climate. However when cultivated for tea leaves the plant can be cropped more frequently and provide a better quality product when grown in favourable conditions. Ideally a south-facing, terraced hillside can provide the sunny aspect combined with good drainage, although irrigation may be required over the summer. Enrich the soil prior to planting with well-rotted farm manure and mulch every autumn taking care not to have the mulch touch the plants trunk.

Main image credit - Christophe Meneboeuf
In text image credit - Selena N. B. H. from Fayetteville, USA

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