I’m about to spill some real tea. Clutch your pearls; here it is: Every tea, whether it is oolong, green, white, or black, comes from one plant—camellia sinensis.
What makes them different is how they are harvested and what oxidation process they go through. One plant can supply you with black tea for slow mornings and white tea to drink before bed, oolong to drink for your cholesterol, and green tea to drink for weight loss.
Learn the specific harvesting and oxidation processes for these different teas, and how to grow tea plants in general from this tea-growing guide!
What You Will Need
- Tea Seeds
- Common Gardening Tools
Growing Tea: FAQ
Below are some of the most common questions people have about growing tea at home.
Can You Grow Black Tea at Home?
Yes, you absolutely can grow black tea at home, along with oolong, white, green, and so on! They all come from the same plant, the camellia sinensis plant. This hardy plant is easy to grow, it just needs moist soil, frequent harvests, and warm weather.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Tea at Home?
The hardest thing about growing tea is how long you have to wait before harvesting. It takes 3 years for tea plants to mature enough to produce leaves for harvest. Sometimes, you will be able to have a small harvest in the second year, but overall you should probably wait. Once your tea plant matures though you will have a continual harvest of tea for many, many years.
Can Tea Be Grown Hydroponically?
Yes, you can grow tea hydroponically. It isn’t the easiest or most intuitive way to grow tea though, and there aren’t a lot of resources that explain how to successfully do so.
Do Other Plants Like Black Tea?
Some people may wonder if black tea has negative effects on other plants because of its harsh nature. On the contrary, it actually benefits them! You can use it to nourish your plants by ripping open tea bags and dispersing their contents around the plants, increasing their nitrogen levels, attracting earthworms, and supporting the soil’s structure.
Can You Grow Tea From Teabags?
The frugal part of you may be wondering, “What happens if you plant a teabag?” The answer isn’t “nothing” but it certainly isn’t that it sprouts a tea bush. Tea bags are actually excellent to use in your garden.
You can add tea bags to your compost to speed up the decomposition. You can brew old tea bags into a weak cup of tea and then sprinkle that on the leaves of plants to repel pests. You can also cut open old tea bags and use their innards to fertilize plants.
Different Varieties of Tea
The bold, dark flavor of black tea and the zip of energy it gives you makes it a favorite among westerner. It has the highest caffeine content of all the varieties of tea. Its leaves are, naturally, blackish, but sometimes take on a red tint, which is why black tea is known as red tea in China. Black tea has the medicinal benefits of protecting your lungs from damage and reducing your risk of having a stroke.
White tea has recently begun to pick up steam in regard to its popularity. It has high antioxidant levels and very low caffeine levels. Its flavor is often subtle, mellow, and delicate. White tea has been shown to be one of the most potent teas in compounds that fight cancer.
The tastes of green tea can be mellow or sharp, sweet or lemony; its flavor varies, but its health benefits don’t. It has a high concentration of antioxidants, specifically EGCG, which supports weight loss, prevents cancer growth, keeps your brain healthy, improves cholesterol levels, and more.
Oolong is also known as blue-green tea. Its taste has a depth to it, simultaneously taking on sweet and woodsy tones, that makes it extremely appealing to tea fanatics, earning it the title of the “connoisseur’s tea.” It has been tied to weight loss and lowering bad cholesterol.
How to Grow Tea at Home
Step One: Prepare for Your Tea
Plan out how you are going to grow your tea. To start, consider, where does tea grow best?
The best growing zones for tea are Zones 7-9. If you want to grow a tea shrub but don’t live in these zones you can use a greenhouse, grow lamps, or a container indoors to grow your tea plant. If you decide to grow indoors, keep in mind that tea plants reach between 3-7 feet in height. You can keep your plant on the shorter side with frequent pruning.
Pick a spot out for your plant. Tea plants thrive in locations that are partly shaded and partly sunny. They need at least a few hours of full sun every day.
Pro Tip: Make sure you buy Camellia Sinensis seeds, not Camellie Sinensis Assamica seeds. The latter can be very temperamental to grow.
Step Two: Prepare the Seeds
To kick off the germination process, soak your seeds in water in a bowl for 2 days before planting. After the 2 days, strain the water from the seeds and spread them out on a tray. Place the tray somewhere sunny and cover the seeds with an inch of vermiculite. Leave them there. Make sure that you mist them frequently with water, keeping the seeds damp. In 6 to 8 weeks they will germinate. Let them grow to be a few inches tall. Once they sprout 3 leaves you can transplant them.
Step Three: Plant Your Seeds
If you are growing your tea outdoors, wait to transplant the seeds until 2 weeks after the last frost in spring. You can transplant them indoors or in a greenhouse at any time. Prepare your soil. It should be well-drained, sandy soil that is slightly acidic with a pH between 6-6.5.
Pro Tip: If you have heavy soil you can work compost through it to lighten it up.
Step Four: Care for Your Tea Plant
Tea plants love water! Keep the soil moist by watering once every few days. Frequent watering helps tea plants grow faster. Protect your outdoor plants from frost when winter rolls around. Cover them or bring them indoors. Fertilize your plants in the spring with a balanced mix, like 10-10-10 or an organic fertilizer. If you are growing container plants you may also want to fertilize them in the summer. Prune them in the fall once they surpass 2 feet in height after their flowers begin to disappear.
Step Five: Harvest Your Tea
Unfortunately, it will take 3 years for your tea plant to be ready for harvest. I know, I know, just remember patience is a virtue. And the eventual payoff will be tea-rrific when you can use your freshly harvested tea leaves to make countless cups of tea. Harvest in the spring after new shoots appear on your plants. When the first 2 bright green leaves appear pinch them with your fingers and gently pluck them from the plant. Continue to harvest early leaves. You can harvest throughout the spring and summer.
Pro Tips: Regular harvests ensure more growth and keep your shrub bushy.
Step Six: To Oxidize or Not to Oxidize?
How to Make Black Tea
Black tea is fully oxidized. After harvesting massage the leaves, rolling them between your hands until their color becomes darker. Then, air-dry the leaves, spreading them out in a cool, dry place for a few days. After they dry out, put them in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 F.
How to Make Green Tea
Green tea is not oxidized. After harvesting the leaves, immediately heat the leaves for a couple of minutes and then run cold water over them. Then, roll the leaves and bake them in the oven at 230 F for 12 minutes turning them every five minutes.
How to Make White Tea
White tea goes through a minimal amount of processing. To make white tea, harvest the whitish unopened tea plant buds and immature tea leaves. Do not let them oxidize. Steam the leaves for 1 minute and then dry them in the oven at 250 F for 20 minutes.
How to Make Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is partially oxidized. After harvesting the leaves allow them to wilt in the sun for 1 hour and then dry them out in a shady spot for 12-24 hours. Stir them occasionally to aerate. Then, you can dry them in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 F.
Step Seven: Brew Your Tea
Store your tea leaves in airtight containers. Leaves will store for a long time, so you can use them when the weather gets cold and your plant stops producing. To brew tea, bring water to a boil. Place six leaves in a tea bag and place that bag in a mug. Pour the boiled water over the leaves and allow it to steep for a few minutes.
Tea is an incredible plant to grow in your backyard! The most difficult part about growing tea is waiting to harvest it. Once those 3 years to full maturation are up though, you will be able to continually harvest your tea for as long as your bush continues to thrive. Some bushes live to be 100 years old! Tea is a delicious, refreshing, and healthy beverage that is all the more enjoyable when it uses fresh tea leaves that you grew. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!
If you liked it, be sure to share, and comment below with any questions or thoughts!