Camellia sinensis, known commonly as tea plant, Assam tea, or tea camellia, is a fragrant, flowering shrub adding winter interest to southern gardens. Its leaves, used for tea, are cultivated around the world and commercially grown in Asia and India.
Camellia sinensis flowers autumn through early winter with small, white or pink flowers. Plants start blooming at around four years old. Glossy, deep green leaves make this an outstanding foliage specimen in groupings, hedges, foundation plantings and borders. It also grows well in containers.
Tea Plant Care
Plant in acidic soil
Choose a location that is part sun, part shade
Provide shelter for plants with southern exposure by planting close to a building; it requires protection from strong winds and inclement weather
Grown indoors as a houseplant, it rarely produces blooms. Due to specific temperature requirements during the growth and dormancy periods, indoor plants fare best in conservatories. The home environment is often too warm and too dry.
In lower hardiness zones, plant Camellia sinensis where it will receive 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. In zones 8 and 9, plants need 2 to 6 hours of direct light and several hours of afternoon shade.
An acid soil with pH levels of 4.0 or 5.5 is needed to successfully grow Camellia sinensis. Most soils are higher in alkalinity so a soil test is worthwhile before planting. It can save you time and effort and allow the opportunity to increase soil acidity when necessary.
Camellia sinensis thrives in clay, sand and loam with high amounts of organic matter, as long as it is moist and well-draining.
Water camellia sinensis regularly to keep soil evenly and moderately moist. Potted plants may require watering every day and benefit from rainwater or distilled water. Mature plants are resistant to drought but should be watered when the top inch of soil gets dry.
Avoid overwatering, which can damage roots, and make sure containers include plenty of drainage holes.
Temperature and Humidity
Camellia sinensis thrives in temperatures between 70°F and 85°F during the growing season and 45°F to 61°F. during dormancy. Add sphagnum moss to container grown plants and mulch those in the garden to help retain soil temperature and moisture.
Plants can survive temperatures down to 20°F for short periods, but extended frosts and freezing can cause damage and plant loss. Camellia sinensis, particularly when kept indoors, will benefit from increased humidity.
Grown as an ornamental, Camellia sinensis should be fertilized with organic or standard NPK formulas. Compost, blood meal, bone meal, and liquid fish emulsion are all good organic choices.
Work compost into soil annually in autumn or early spring. Apply blood or bone meal at the start of growing season and again midseason. Apply foliar applications every two to three weeks.
Types of Tea Plant
There are two main varieties of Camellia sinensis and numerous cultivars. You can make any of the six main categories of tea using the leaves. The type of tea is determined by where the plant is grown, when the leaves are harvested and how they are dried and processed.
Camellia sinensis sinensis: Known as the Chinese variety, this tea plant has smaller leaves and is more cold tolerant.
Camellia sinensis assamica: Native to the Assam region of India, this type is grown in tropical regions and low-level elevations. Leaves are larger than Chinese tea plant.
Camellia sinensis ‘Rosea’: A notable cultivar with profuse soft pink flowers in early autumn. Cold hardy to USDA zone 6. New growth is burgundy in color.
Prune Camellia sinensis in late winter or early spring following the bloom period. Hard pruning of up to half the foliage helps shape immature shrubs and keeps container grown plants manageable. Remove damaged and diseased branches at their base and head back branches where needed, making the cut just above a leaf node.
Container grown plants can also be root pruned to maintain the desired size.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Camellia sinensis grown indoors may attract scale, leafhoppers, aphids, spider mites. Outdoor plants also are vulnerable to leaf chewers like caterpillars and grasshoppers. Caterpillars can be handpicked or apply a preventive pesticide.
Indoors, use neem oil or another horticultural oil at the first sign of infestation.
Camilla sinensis can become infected with a number of bacterial and fungal problems, like leaf spots, anthracnose, black mold, petal blight, and canker and root rot.
How to Get Tea Plant to Bloom
Flowerbuds start forming on four-year-old tea plants when temperatures drop to around 60°F in autumn. To encourage blooming, avoid exposing camellia sinensis to temperature extremes and don’t let soil dry out, which causes buds to drop before opening. Reserve hard pruning for late winter or early spring until after the bloom period. Fertilize mature plants during the growing season with an NPK formula higher in phosphorous.
When camellia sinensis’ flowers open depends on climate and temperature, but blooming begins in autumn and may last until early winter.
What Do Tea Plant Flowers Look and Smell Like?
Flowers are small (1- to 1 1/2-inches across) and usually white with yellow stamens. Blooms may be single or semi-double with 7 to 9 rounded petals up to 20 for semi-double flowers. Petals may show a pink tinge.
The cultivar C. sinensis ‘Rosea’ is notable for its pink flowers. Its flowers, often hidden among the foliage, are not as fragrant as other Camellia species but they do have a sweet pollen scent.
Caring for Tea Plant After It Blooms
The end of the camellia sinensis bloom period is the best time to take care of any hard pruning for shaping. It also allows the plant to concentrate energy into the roots during dormancy and facilitates healthy new growth and flowering for the following year.
Late winter and early spring before new growth begins are the best times to repot or root trim your Camellia sinensis.