The tree or bush used to make tea is the Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis is a warm-weather plant that can only be safely grown in zones 11 and above, although some sources say zone 8 or above. The problem with colder zones is the occasional dips in temperature that can damage or kill a tea plant. Tea prefers winter temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but can tolerate occasional freezes. The best way to grow Camellia sinensis in North America is in pots. That way you can bring the plants indoors in the winter.
Select an outdoor location in the mid to late spring after the risk of nighttime temperatures dropping below 40 degrees Fahrenheit has passed. Your location needs ample light that ranges from full sun to partial shade.
Select a pot. If you are planning on harvesting leaves to process into tea, select the largest pots that can be easily moved into a heated, protected area in the winter. Camellia sinensis also grows well as a bonsai and can be planted in very small pots. However, these trees will not produce enough spring flush leaves to make into tea.
Buy a Camelia sinensis seedling that is either the right size for the pot or smaller than the pot size. It is best to start with a healthy plant from a reputable nursery. However, if you already have a tree, you can propagate the tree via cuttings or air layering.
Plant the Camelia sinensis in a well-drained, acidic soil. Although the plant prefers a pH of between 4.6 and 5, it can grow suitably in soils that have a pH of up to 7.5. You can check the pH of the soil with testing kits sold at many nurseries and garden centers. Camelia sinensis requires soil that drains very well and often does well in very rocky, acidic soil.
Water the potted Camellia sinensis thoroughly. Keep the soil in the pot moist at all times, do not let the soil dry out.
Harvest the young tea leaves and buds in the spring once the plant is well-established to make green tea. Only harvest the youngest leaves and buds by plucking the three terminal leaves and the bud with your fingers.
Allow the leaves to dry in the sun for several hours after picking. Spread the leaves on a piece of window screen or other material that will allow good air circulation. Make sure the harvested leaves do not come into contact with the ground.
Complete final drying of the leaves. The easiest way to dry the leaves is to place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 250-degree-Fahrenheit oven for around 10 minutes. Once dried, store the leaves in airtight containers until you are ready to use them.
Things You Will Need
- Camellia sinensis seedlings or young plants
- Well-draining, acidic soil
- Window screen
- Cookie sheets
- You can also make oolong or black tea. Although the process is much more complicated, the leaves used in green, oolong and black teas all come from the same plant. The only difference is in post-harvest processing.