Keep Tea (and hope) Alive: A Letter to Tea Across America Volunteer Hosts
(and all trying to grow tea in the US)
Camellia sinensis plants have been distributed to states across the country thanks to Jason Mcdonald of FiLoLi Tea Farms in Brookhaven, Mississippi. In the most unlikely places you can now interact with a tea plant, even in Alaska! The honeymoon phase with your new tea plant may be over as the harsh Winter and dry environment may not be keeping your tea plant at its happiest. Concern for the life of your tea plant is valid, but we have some reassuring news and tips from Nigel Melican of Teacraft, LTD. Here is an open letter that Nigel has provided for the US tea growing community.
In the event your tea plant exhibits all the symptoms of being dead – only time will tell if the diagnosis is correct. In this dire situation of symptomatic death you should review the following:
1. Does it have soil that is too dry? - if so provide a little water
2. Does it have soil that is too wet? - if so, stop watering and investigate pot drainage
3. Has it been in low humidity? -If so put the whole plant into a sealed clear plastic bag standing on damp newspaper to create humidity
4. Has it been in freezing conditions? – if so bring it into COLD non-freezing conditions – not warm or hot
5. Has it been heat shocked? do not move it between outdoor freezing and indoor heated conditions, in winter heat is as bad as freezing
6. Is it just dormant? - if so under the bark close to the ground will be greenish when nicked with a fingernail
7. Is it dead above the ground? - if so under the bark close to the ground will be tan brown when nicked with a fingernail
8. Should you prune it? – no, it may produce buds in spring from apparently dead bark – prune dead wood after growth begins
Tea plants want to be dormant in the winter – resting, not growing. The ideal conditions for this resting are between 30 and 50⁰F, humid air, semi shade, slight moisture at the roots. The closer you can achieve these conditions the happier you plant will be through winter months.
Best action now is give your plant the plastic bag treatment, do not prune it, put it somewhere cool, out of the sun, and wait ‘til spring. If it is strong and has good root reserves it will pop some buds. Even if the stem is dead it may shoot from the roots. So, patience and love is the requirement.