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Tea tree growing, care… harvest and drinking, too!

Tea tree, the tree that grows leaves for tea

So, in your pocket urban garden, you’ve already grown cherry tomato, radish, strawberry, herbs, and started off your avocado? Next up: the tea tree!

Key facts to remember

Name – Camellia sinensis
Type – Flower shrub

Height – 3 to 9 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – sun and part sun
Soil rather light and well drained

Flowering – November to March
Foliage – evergreen

Camellia sinensis, or tea tree, is a very famous relative of the ornamental Japanese Camellia. Original, and edible, the tea tree grows very well in the ground (as a standalone or part of a hedge) and… in pots!

Its smallish size for a shrub (3-4 to 9-12 feet, or about 1-1.5 to 3-4 meters) makes it a shrub that fits well in urban gardens.

Planting a tea tree

It’s possible to plant a tea tree anytime during the year, apart from during frost spells in winter and high temperature days in summer.

Tea tree, shelter it from wind

From April to June is a great time to settle it in the ground, but you can also go ahead in September/October. Find a place that is well-protected from wind, either in the shade or in part shade.

Tea tree planting and bloomingIn its natural environment, in China, it grows at high altitudes in a cool but constant atmosphere. In other parts of the world, it’ll prefer temperate and coastal climates, and will positively thrive in areas that have a mild and moist climate.

The tea tree is cold hardy down to 19-23°F (-5 to -7°C), but it’s better to winterize it in a greenhouse or a lean-in to protect its leaves: they’ll fall off if it freezes or snows.

Tea tree in a pot:

If your tea tree is growing in a pot, bring it out from May to October. Keep it in the shade and out of the wind.

Tea tree likes well aerated soil that drains well, stays cool, and most importantly, an acidic pH because it’s a heath plant at heart. Give it mulch made from pine tree bark, and water as soon as the surface of the soil is dry. Use rainwater because it hates hard water. Also feel free to mist its leaves on days of hot weather.

  • Finally, make the most of summer to propagate your Camellia sinensis and prepare a few cuttings. That’ll help increase your harvest or share the plant to family and friends!

Blooming and harvesting a tea tree

It’s perfectly possible to cultivate a tea tree in your own home, in the garden, and harvest its leaves to make your own tea.

The tea tree usually blooms twice in the year

In June, and then again from October to December It then is covered in small white flowers with a yellow center, which look magnificent against the elegant, shiny leaves.

These fragrant, evergreen leaves are the basis for brewing tea.

Harvesting tea tree leaves to make tea:

THarvesting tea leaves when youngo gather your own production, harvest the young leaves of a tree that’s at least 3 years old. Early dawn in June is best.

Dry the leaves for 24 hours in the shade, and then again in an oven at around 200°F (90°C), with the door open to evacuate moisture. Savor its authentic taste and experiment with growing techniques and drying times to adapt it to your taste over the years!

Take note: you’ll need to gather several pounds of leaves to get a single pound of tea, and a single tea tree won’t let you gather very much of it.

Using tea tree leaves

Green tea or black tea, as a drink

Tea trees are the first step in preparing tea, and how you prepare the leaves after the harvest makes the difference between green tea and black tea. If the leaves are simply dried, you’ll get green tea. Black tea, on the other hand, requires fermenting the leaves beforehand. Rich in both theanine and caffeine, tea is not only savored for its taste, but also for its many medicinal properties and for the health benefits it procures the body.

Drinking tea tree leaves in a pot

Claire Lelong-Lehoang

Image credits (edits: Gaspard Lorthiois): Pixabay: Ambady Sasi, Kumar Niroshan, Nawal Escape, Mirko Stödter
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