Although it is originally from China through to the foothills of Northern India, Camellia sinensis is widely grown, including in Japan, Sri Lanka, Australia and yes in North America.
This is the Camellia of commerce, the plant grown to make tea. Not all tea comes from the same plant as we might be led to believe. Technically speaking two varieties are grown, one the species C.sinensis var. sinensis and the other C.sinensis var. assamica.
Same species, two varieties, and two types of tea, the Chinese tea and the Indian tea or Assam tea. And yes all of the types of tea including Orange Peko, English Breakfast, Oolong, Earl Grey and all of the others come from these plants.
How to grow Camellia sinensis
Its really easy, if you can grow Rhododendrons, Camellias or Azalaes, then you can grow Camellia sinensis. It is not so much the growing that is difficult, its the picking and drying.
If we look at the natural environment the climate is the cool foothills of the Himalayas, China on one side, India on the other. And in Sri Lanka, the same, the cool foothills. So USDA Zones 7 – 9.
You can grow C.sinensis purely for the foliage and the attractive white flowers which are set off with masses of egg yellow stamens in winter to spring. The flowers are small but attractive.
If you are growing this plant for tea, then a little extra care is required.
You need to encourage good new growth every year, as it is the small new leaves that are picked and dried for tea. Only the top 2 or 3 leaves are picked, and this is done every week during the growing season.
It is not much use planting one plant and letting it grow for a few years and then deciding to ‘make tea’. You really need to have a plan.
- Plant 3 – 4 plants as a minimum.
- Plant them at around 2 – 3 ft apart in a sunny position with protection from hot afternoon sun
- Plant is a fertile humus rich moist soil
- Prune them from an early age to create a bushy habit.
These are a plant that require regular pruning to maintain the bushy habit is essential for growing tea
So why the low growing bushy habit ?
Camellia sinensis will naturally grow to over 12 ft tall. This presents a few problems for tea pickers. Firstly you can’t reach the new leaves to pick them. secondly you will not have as many new buds to pick.
Spring is picking time, pinch those two small leaves from the new growth and you are ready to dry them and ‘Make your Own Tea’.
Fairly easy from cuttings, also possible from seed.
- Fresh seed should be used.
- Seed needs to be kept moist.
Where to buy
Offered by good Camellia specialists only.