Thursday, 14 May 2015

Growing tea

 Most of us have heard of the decorative camellia plant, but the tea variety (Camellia sinensis) is becoming popular for gardeners. Although it prefers subtropical climates the Camellia sinensis plant is both resilient and adaptable. It is an evergreen shrub, but can grow up to 17 m high. In cultivation, it is usually kept below 2 m high by pruning. Its bright green leaves are shiny, and often have a hairy underside. Its fruits are brownish-green and contain one to four seeds. For planting, Camellia sinensis likes well-drained, sandy, acidic soil but will do well in other soil types too. They grow well in sunny areas, but light shade develops the flavor of the leaves. They should be kept 1 meter apart to avoid competition. Camellia bushes are drought-tolerant and will survive dry summers.

There are three major varieties: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (Chinese tea),  Camellia sinensis var. assamica (Assam tea, Indian tea) and Camellia sinensis var. Cambodia  (Java tea).
Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (Chinese tea), are the original tea plant and is hardier than the other varieties. It has relatively small and narrow leaves and produces fragrant white flowers in autumn. Given the right conditions, a tea plant can grow and produce for 50-100 years.
C. sinensis var. assamica is taller in its natural state and can grow into a loosely branched tree to a height of about 17 m. It is a less hardy variety with medium, droopy, leathery leaves. It needs well-drained soil and needs ample water, but it is the most cold-sensitive camellia.
Camellia sinensis var. Cambodia is used to create hybrids and not grown on its own so much, but it can also grow quite tall and has the small white flowers when temperatures cool in autumn.

Tea can be propagated from cuttings or from seeds, but the seeds take extra time. From seed, it will take 2-3 years to be ready to harvest. The plant likes regular harvesting and the new shoots can be used for tea. They need to be properly pruned back every four years to rejuvenate the bush and keep it at a convenient height.