Learning to Grow Tea Plants in Greenhouses and Outdoor Structures: Enjoy!
Tea is a crop that is both sensitive to variability in weather conditions and best suited to a warm, wet climate, so unless you live in the tropics you will want to consider using a greenhouse to grow your own tea, which is also known as Camellia sinensis. A greenhouse will aid you in maintaining high temperatures and humidity at consistent levels not subject to sudden changes.
A. Reasons to Use a Greenhouse
Tea plants are also sensitive to windy conditions, which a greenhouse avoids. Another reason to use a greenhouse: even if you did manage to grow tea plants outside in the summer if you live in a sufficiently subtropical climate, your greenhouse-grown plants would still likely be healthier and larger – resulting in a higher quality and quantity yield of tea. Once you have harvested some leaves, you can easily use them to make green, oolong and black tea.
B. Tea Plants and Ventilation
Your greenhouse needs to be properly ventilated for growing tea, as tea plants require air to be circulating consistently. Fans would be useful for this purpose. An additional way to guarantee proper ventilation is to provide reasonable spacing between tea plants so that air can flow between them. You could start your tea plants from seeds, but it would be faster and easier to use cuttings or transplants of young plants instead. Tea seeds can take about a year to germinate.
C. Tea Plants and Soil
The soil required for tea plants is somewhat sandy, which you can achieve by mixing one part sand with two parts soil. Tea cuttings or transplants should be set into shallow holes the size of the cutting or of the root ball of the transplant and lightly covered with around 1.5” of sandy soil. Tea plants also prefer soil to be more acidic to a level also preferable to rhododendrons: the pH should be between 4.5 and 7. Tea plants fortunately tend to have few pest and disease problems, though over-watering can lead to mildew.
D. Tea Plants and Watering
Water your tea plants with water at room temperature. Water whenever the first .5” of soil gets dry, as tea plants thrive in damp, but not wet, soil conditions. Mulch can be useful also, since greenhouse plants can still suffer from weeds, and mulch is also useful for maintaining soil moisture – especially important for tea plants. Drip irrigation is a useful way to handle large crops of tea. Tea plants also prefer full sun, which may necessitate use of lamps in the winter depending on where you live. Tea seedlings and younger plants do however require some shade.
E. Tea Plants and Harvesting
Once the tea plants are bushy, it is time to harvest tea leaves from them. Tea plants do take a while to grow, however, so do not expect a harvest until a few years have elapsed, depending on the size of your cuttings or transplants and depending on how well you keep them healthy. Leaves from older plants will tend to be stronger in flavor than leaves from younger plants. Tea leaves should be picked off from the base of each leaf from the top of each plant that is ready for harvesting. Only pick the top inch or two of a mature plant and refrain from harvesting from that plant again until this top inch or so regrows. You want to leave most of your plants’ leaves intact to keep those plants healthy and productive over time.
F. More on Tea Cultivation
You can expect tea seeds of your own after around half a dozen to a dozen years have passed. Growing tea changes at different elevations: higher up you can expect your tea plants to grow more slowly yet also to taste better. Tea plants can grow quite tall unless pruned, and a common height for tea plants to be pruned is to about waist height for ease of harvesting. Once in a while your tea plants will also flower in small, sweet-smelling white blossoms if you are taking care of them well.
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