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Guide to How to Grow Your Own Tea [Homegrown Tea, Anyone?]

Complete guide to how to grow your own tea! Growing your own tea plants is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your garden.

Tea has been a part of the human experience since civilization began. It is a great way to add health benefits to our drinks. The benefits of tea are wide-ranging, from boosting your immune level to combatting inflammation.

Throughout history, tea has been an expensive and precious commodity. It led to the opening of many trade routes across nations and even had a part in instigating the American revolution. Even today, people are enamored by tea – how to brew it, the history of it, and how this mysterious plant is grown.

For those of us who enjoy being self-sufficient, growing our own tea plants can be a great way to rely more on the land that we live on. But how do you create something that is so mysterious, especially when each tea is so different and has such a different character?

While many ancient techniques for creating incredible teas may be lost, you can start by growing your own tea plants.

About the Tea Plant, Camellia sinensis

hand-picking tea from a tea plant (camellia)

Camellia sinensis is the plant from which all teas are made. This includes white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and even pu’er tea (though the latter is made from a specific variant called Camellia sinensis var. assamica).

Herbal teas are an exception, they are not made from the Camellia but from herbs. Herbal teas can include mint, lemongrass, chamomile, and many others.

The Difference Between Green, White, Black, and Pu’er Tea

The difference in each tea includes the processing of the leaves and when they are harvested. Processing types are mostly based on how much a leaf is oxidized and fermented.

  • Green teas and white teas are not oxidized at all which is why they keep their light color and astringent taste.
  • Black teas and pu’er teas (which are considered red and dark respectively) are oxidized with the use of sun and heat.
  • Pu’er teas also go through a longer fermentation process.
  • Some teas, like kukicha tea, use stems and twigs instead of the leaves of Camellia plants.

Teas can be “flavored” during processing when they are dried with, or next to, other aromatic plants. These include plants like jasmine flowers or roses. When these plants are dried next to each other, the volatile oils of the aromatic plants are absorbed by the tea leaves. This gives the tea a certain taste and quality.

Here are Chris and Elizabeth from Minto Island Tea, harvesting tea leaves. They often have tea plants for sale and have some great growing tips on their website.

harvesting-tea-plants-camellia-sinensis
Elizabeth Miller and Chris Jenkins from Minto Island Tea

Because so much can be done with the Camellia sinensis tea plant, it is one that should be in every tea lover’s garden! And for those of you who don’t love tea (yet), it can be a great way to start substituting coffee and growing your own caffeine.

The Different Variants of Camellia

As I briefly mentioned above, there are different variants of Camellia sinensis, and this can contribute to some of the variety in teas as well.

Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis

Camellia sinensis var. sinensis is a Chinese variety that is traditionally grown in cooler climates, though it does well in warmer climates as well. It can grow to be between 5-15 feet tall, but many people will prune the plant to keep it shorter.

This variant of Camellia is used to make white teas, green teas, Darjeeling teas, and some oolong and black teas. It has a less astringent, and more light flavor than the other variant.

Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica

Camellia sinensis var. assamica is a variant that is endemic to India and Sri Lanka, as well as the Yunaan Provence in China. This variety is grown in warm, humid climates and produces a plant that will grow much larger than the other variant if left unpruned.

The teas that these leaves produce are richer and you can harvest them year-round. Many black teas, oolongs, and pu’er teas are made from this variety.

Camellia Sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua

People also use other less-traditional varieties of Camellia to grow tea. One such plant is Camellia sasanqua. This variety brews a rich, clove-like flavored tea. It is also called the Yuletide Camellia because its flowers are bright reddish pink, instead of the standard delicate white of sinensis variants.

Camellia sasanqua isn’t just nice to drink. It’s an absolutely gorgeous flowering shrub, too!

Camellia Japonica

Absolutely stunning Camellia japonica

Oh my!

Picture this in your garden! This Camellia knows how to impress.

Camellia japonica grows a pink flower (in abundance!) and does well in climates from the UK to Alabama. It makes a tasty green tea as well as a stunning ornamental shrub. This is one of the easiest varieties to find in many nurseries across North America (and the world.)

How to Grow Your Own Tea

You can grow your own tea plants from seeds or get a head start with plants from a nursery. Strangely enough, Amazon offers a great range of tea plants for good prices!

How to Grow Tea From Seeds

Camellia nut with seeds inside

Growing tea from seeds is an economical way to start. Especially if you’d like to grow more than one! It can also be very satisfying to see your tea plants grow up from tiny seedlings to tea-producing mature plants.

Camellia sinensis seeds have a hard outer hull that needs to be softened before they can sprout. Here’s how to go about this.

The Sun Method

  1. Soak the seeds in hot water for about 24 hours.
  2. Notice which seeds float and which ones sink. The ones that sink are usually the ones that will successfully germinate.
  3. Take your “sinkers” and put them on plastic or a towel in full sun.
  4. Mist them regularly – never let them dry out completely.
  5. Eventually, you will see a crack develop in the hull.
  6. Take your cracked seeds and plant them into soil, keeping the soil moist but well-drained.

Another way to germinate seeds is by using a wet paper towel and a sandwich bag. Here’s how to use this method.

The Paper Towel Method

  1. Again, soak your seeds for 24 hours to see which ones float and which sink.
  2. After that, wet a paper towel so that it is slightly more than damp, but not soaking wet.
  3. Take your sinker seeds and place them on one half of a paper towel (I usually put 2 to 4 seeds in each 4×4” section of paper towel).
  4. Fold the other half of the paper towel over the seeds and put it into the sandwich bag.
  5. Seal the top and label the plant name and date on the outside.
  6. Place the bag somewhere warm and dark (I use a cupboard near the stove where the heat will rise). 

With either technique, you will need patience as germination can take anywhere from days to weeks.

To help loosen the seed hull, you can use a 1:5 ratio of hydrogen peroxide to water when you soak your seeds. It can also help increase the oxygen that the seed receives. This can, in some cases, speed up the germination of some of the seeds.

How to Grow Tea Plants

Camellia sinensis seedlings

If you want to start making tea tomorrow, buy a plant! Seeds take dedication and patience so if you’re in a hurry (or just impatient, like me), a plant is the best course of action.

First Things First – pH

Tea plants like to grow in acidic soil with a pH of around 6. Many of us have soil with a more alkaline pH, so you’ll need to add something to drop the pH. The last time I tested my soil it was just over 7 – no wonder the camellias and azaleas didn’t thrive!

Supplement with an acidic fertilizer, worm or compost tea, or sulfur.

The Best Position for Your Tea Plant

Grow your tea plant in full sun, unless you live in a warm climate. During hot weather, Camellias prefer some shade in the afternoon.

Camellias love drainage. Check the drainage of your soil first by watering it – either with a hose or a watering can. If the water doesn’t freely soak in, you’ll need to improve the drainage first. Your plant will not thrive if its roots sit in water or when they’re suffocated by heavy clay.

Mulch, mulch, mulch! Any mulch will do.

Pruning and Appearance

If you prune your tea plant, it will keep a shrub-like shape. If you let it grow without pruning, it can become a 10 to 15-foot tree!

Camellias are well-suited to containers, too. Choose a pot size appropriate to the plant’s size. If the plant is a seedling, it won’t thrive in a 2′ container. The aim is to grow a nice, tight root ball (without suffocating it, of course!). Once it nicely fills the pot, work your way up to the size container you want.

Camellia sinensis plants make a great ornamental hedge in your gardens and backyard. You can alternate them with other plants or create a full tea hedge!

Tea plants are attractive shrubs that bloom with delicate, white flowers in the fall.

Tea Plants for Sale

Here are some places that have Camellia tea plants for sale:

  • Logees Nursery has tea plants for sale on Amazon, they’re a great price (see the box below) and shipped directly to you.
  • Amazon is also a go-to for buying seeds and has tea plants for sale. Amazon is currently selling both Camellia sinensis seeds and mature tea plants.
  • Camellia Forest Nursery has a wide range of tea plants for sale, including Camellia sinensis “Black Sea Tea”, Camellia sinensis “Teabreeze”, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
  • Burpee Nursery has tea plants for sale.
  • Fast-Growing-Trees.com has tea plants for sale in 1-quart and 2-gallon sizes.
  • I also like White Buffalo Trading Company for its unique seeds that you won’t often find elsewhere.  They are all organic and non-GMO varieties and they often have tea plant seeds for sale.
  • Spring Hill Nurseries is another online nursery with tea plants for sale. They will ship live Camellia sinensis plants to your door.
  • And then there’s Minto Island Tea (from the photo above), they often have tea plants for sale as well as a wealth of tea-growing information.

Whichever route you choose, know that you are one step closer to being fully self-sufficient! On top of that, drinking tea can be a healthy and mindful ritual in your life. Adding hand cultivation and processing to the ritual makes the experience even more mindful and meaningful.

You can experiment with how to grow your Camellia plant, which parts of the plant to use, and how to harvest and process the leaves so that you create a tea that fits your taste buds. And one thing is for sure – once you start growing your own Camellia, you will never view tea the same way again!

If you would like more information about harvesting and processing your own tea plants, I highly recommend the books, below. There’s one book that lists 20,000 uses of tea – it’s an amazing read and I had to include it. Once your tea plants are ready for harvest, this book will be a great resource!

“Once there was a man who knew 100,000 healing properties of herbs. He taught his son 80,000 secrets. On his deathbed, he told his son to visit his grave in five years, and there he would find the other 20,000 secrets. When the son went to his father’s grave, he found, growing on the site, the tea shrub….”

Chinese Legend

Keep reading!

Useful Tea Plant Resources

  1. Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting, and Blending Teas and Tisanes
  2. Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting, and Blending Teas and Tisanes
    $12.99

    Homegrown Tea explains how to grow tea from seeds and cuttings, as well as how to grow plants. It shows you how to harvest the tea, how to prepare it, and how to make the tea from start to finish.

    A great resource for the home tea grower!

    Amazon

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/30/2022 12:48 pm GMT
  3. 20,000 Secrets of Tea: The Most Effective Ways to Benefit from Nature's Healing Herbs
  4. 20,000 Secrets of Tea: The Most Effective Ways to Benefit from Nature's Healing Herbs
    $7.99
    • An A-Z listing of common ailments followed by the teas best used to treat them
    • Instructions on how to create your own medicinal kitchen
    • Advice on creating your own tea blends
    • Descriptions of the top 100 herbs and their secret healing properties
    • And much, much more!
    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/30/2022 12:48 pm GMT
  5. Tea (Camellia sinensis)
  6. Tea (Camellia sinensis)
    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

  7. Grow Your Own Tea: The Complete Guide to Cultivating, Harvesting, and Preparing
  8. Grow Your Own Tea: The Complete Guide to Cultivating, Harvesting, and Preparing
    $24.95 $19.39

    A comprehensive handbook, you’ll learn about the ancient origins of tea, as well as the different varieties that produce green, black, white, and oolong tea.

    You'll receive step-by-step instructions on how to pluck the leaves, wither them, and roll them. Recipes are included, too!

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/30/2022 12:58 pm GMT
  9. Grow Your Own Caffeine: The Story of How I Learned to Grow Tea and Coffee in My Home Garden
  10. Grow Your Own Caffeine: The Story of How I Learned to Grow Tea and Coffee in My Home Garden
    $10.75

    In this book, you’ll learn everything the author knows about tea and coffee - he obsessed over the topic for years!

    • The history, culture, and customs surrounding tea in the world
    • The history and folklore of coffee
    • Exactly how I set up my growing operation
    • What to expect while keeping your plants alive and thriving
    • How to tell a quality tea
    • How to harvest and process tea and coffee at home
    • The health benefits (and drawbacks) of tea
    • How to judge the quality of tea
    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    09/30/2022 01:03 pm GMT

Author

  • Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.