Planting Tea

In a recent blog, I reviewed a couple of books and commented that I was inspired by the long-term garden cultivating efforts of these authors.  Inspired? Yes. But in hindsight, these authors are not what spurred me to action. I was already on that path. Their life journeys were just a reminder of what I already knew. 

Brad’s family was recently reminiscing about his sister’s home in Dyersville, Iowa. It was the setting for many Barghols’ family gatherings. The house itself was built by Robin’s husband and over the years, she and Bill developed the house and the surrounding land – as energy, time and money allowed. The approach Robin and Bill took is truly the one I have been striving to emulate.  My little Patch405 is evolving over time, and I am trying to approach everything I do with intention.  

My tea garden is one such development. As noted before, I placed (and received) my order of five (5) tea plants:  

Lipton Plantation – I thought a little piece of American tea history was a necessary addition. This cultivar comes from the tea plantation Lipton had in Alabama. Most of the plants were destroyed when the plantation was closed, but a few were saved and found their way to various gardens and nurseries throughout the south.  

Rosea – I was sold on the description of pale pink flowers in early autumn. It says that the burgundy new growth is the most outstanding quality of this variety, but also noted that the red pigment is found in all parts of the plant, from the roots to the bright pink filament of the flowers.  

Small Leaf – Parks specifically recommended this variety to me last year. It’s widely grown in Japan and favored for producing mild-flavored tea.  

Sochi – These seedlings come from plants developed at Russian tea plantations, and are known for their cold hardiness and vigor. Oklahoma should feel like a tropical vacation! 

Super Sochi – Bigger is better, right? We’ll see. This cultivar displays significantly larger leaves and more vigorous growth than the original Sochi. I am ready to compare the two! 

In reading and re-reading Grow your Own Tea and discussing the intricate points with my husband, he recommended that I order a second set of plants so that I could try the plants in two different areas. (Don’t you love this guy?!) 

My plan was to plant in raised boxes – so the clay soil of Oklahoma should not be too much of a deterrent. My other considerations revolved around humidity, sunshine, and shade. It’s a complicated scenario. Optimal humidity for tea is from 50% up to 80-90%. Below 40% can inhibit growth. Once source I accessed says for Oklahoma City, the average annual relative humidity is 54.4% and average monthly relative humidity ranges from 48% in August to 62% in January. Another source had the annual average at 65%, supported by a daily average by month running from a low of 61 in April to a 68 in May and December. That source also showed morning averages in the 70-80’s and afternoon averages in the 40-50’s.   

According to the tea book – In the southern US, growers want to reduce the impact of mid-to-late-day sun during the heat of summer. However, you want at least a half day of sun because deep shade will reduce the rate of growth. Tea plants in full sun produce the most leaf, but in cold climates this makes them more susceptible to winter damage and sunburned leaves. 50% shade is recommended. In full sun, temperatures experienced by leaves can be substantially higher than optimal ambient level for growth, so midday and afternoon shade may be useful. 

March 25, 2020 – before the trees have leafed out.

Oh my goodness, that’s a lot to consider. And Oklahoma summers are extremely hot and the sun is blistering. So – I hopefully made a decision that provided an ample amount of afternoon shade as I placed my two raised boxes approximately thirty yards north of my guest house. They are situated side-by-side, with the one on the west getting a little more shade than the other.  

Looking south. East is the left bed. West is the right.

In configuring the two raised boxes, it was Grayson who helped me with design the to meet the space requirements while minimizing the necessary wood and dirt. This area of my lot is naturally sloped – so drainage is built-in. And it’s on the edge of a wooded area, enabling me to take advantage of that natural afternoon shade. Within each box, the plants are situated in the same position. On the west side of the box, Super Sochi is on the north and Rosea is on the south. On the east side of the box, Sochi on the north, Small Leaf is in the middle, and Lipton Plantation is on the south.  

I used 2”x12” boards, connected with my favorite brick contraptions. The short side is one 6’ board. Opposite that is two 6’ boards. And the adjoining sides are 8’ boards. The wood is untreated, and stained with a waterproofing wood stain. I brought the soil into the backyard with my ‘new’ truck – a hand-me-down gift from my parents because my father is no longer able to drive. The soil is a ‘rich mix’ from the local dirt guy down the street. Each raised bed took one truckload of soil. My 2-year-old cat, Fitz, was my constant companion during this project.  

Fitz. That purple in background is a Redbud tree.

Attempting to follow the instructions to the best of my ability, each plant is somewhat a mound all of its own – raising slightly above the area around it. I added a fertilizer for acid-loving plants. And then I circled each plant with a soaker hose and mulched the mound with straw.  

And now, I am trying not to fret too much about this area. It’s been about eight weeks since I transplanted the tea, and I think everything looks good (other than the weeds that have sprouted in the straw mulch). I’m trying to ensure that this area has ample water, but not too much. I’m watching the sunlight-to-shade ratio. And in writing this blog and re-reading the book yet again, I realize that I need to think about pruning and determine if I should do a small harvest.  

May 31, 2020 at 7pm

Which makes me think that I could soon be drinking my own cup of tea …  

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