Thursday, October 10, 2019

How To Grow Tea Pt. 3- Getting Camellia Sinensis Ready For Winter

One Of My Happy Tea Plants

It's been over a year since I've started my tea seeds and they are growing quite happily! I started them indoors, and once the summer hit I brought most of them outside for the season. They really shot up during the summer, and grew lots of hardy green leaves. The crisp autumn weather is starting to creep in, so it's time to start thinking about how to care for the plants during winter.

I decided to put several of my plants directly in the ground on my Brooklyn patio, but a few are outside in pots. It gets quite cold in NYC, and the Farmers' Almanac apparently is predicting a tough winter. I need to ready the tea plants!

Getting Tea Plants Ready For Winter
To figure out how to get the tea plants ready for the winter, I contacted Jason McDonald, co-founder of The Great Mississippi Tea Company, and founding member of the United States League of Tea Growers. He and his partner Timmy sent me my tea seeds, and he's been super patient with all of my tea growing questions.

Jason recommended letting the tea plants adapt to the weather. He said that even though NYC gets very cold, it should be fine for the plants, and it's important for them to adjust to the climate they are living in. If it gets cold and stays that way, the plants will adapt. But, the one thing he said I needed to worry about was a sudden drop in extreme temperature, and freezing winds.

The plant in the large pot grew much bigger than the one in the small pot!

Getting Tea Plants Ready For Winter- What To Do Outside
To combat an extreme temperature change and also frigid winds, Jason suggested I use horticultural fleece. Horticultural fleece is lightweight material used to cover the plants. It's basically a plant blanket to keep out the extreme wind. The wind is the real problem, as combined with frigid weather it can cause the leaves to freezer burn, which in turn can kill the plants.

Getting Tea Plants Ready For Winter- What To Do Inside
For my potted tea plants, I had to decide if I would bring them inside or leave them out for the season. I decided to bring two large and one small pot indoors, to compare the indoor and outdoor plant progress. I may bring one large more pot inside if I can find a good spot for it. I have huge radiators right by my best windows, so there isn't much prime plant space. I want to make sure the plants are as far away from the radiators as possible so they don't get too dry and overheated.

When I first sprouted my seedlings I kept them in a little greenhouse to trap in some humidity. But I'm not going to seek out a larger greenhouse for the indoor plants this time. Hopefully they'll adapt to the slightly dryer environment and I'll just give them an occasional misting (but I won't keep them too wet as that can lead to fungus gnats). It will be interesting to compare the progress of the indoor and outdoor plants. I'll post an update sometime midwinter.

A quick note on the potted plants- if you look at the above photo, you'll see the plant in the larger pot grew much taller than the one in the little pot! Something to keep in mind if you're thinking of growing tea for yourself.

If you keep tea plants, let me know what you do over the winter. Do you protect them outside? If they are inside, do you do anything special? For more tips on growing your own tea, check out my original post and my follow-up post!


  1. I grow a little tea here in North Carolina, and planted some young seedlings outside the first year.
    A plant in a pot will freeze faster than a plant in soil, so think about insulating the pot, leaves or pine straw would work. Burying the pot will also work. Also when real cold temps might occur put a larger pot over the plant in the smaller pot, just rememeber to remove during the day as it might get too warm underneath.
    I did this to the seedlings that were in the ground, the tea plants are only one and a half years old from sprouting and some are two to three feet tall. Actually took some of the tips from these plants and made black tea. Of course it was the very best had ever drunk, :).

  2. Hi we started out with eight plants fifteen years ago here in South Jersey. Greenwich Cumberland co. To be more specific. We are on our second generation from our original plants And have branched out to over a hundred in the ground. Lipton, Korean, Russian, several from South Carolina..I have always used Frost tents to protect them. However this year I'm trying the full fabric sheets and building tents over most plants. I have found that my direct seeded plants do much better than any two or three year plants bought from other growers.I believe the fact the tap root grows as much as 12"in it's first year had allot to due with our success. Temps reaching below zero with wind chill make it worth the extra effort to protect our investment.
    This year we picked enough tea to let our customers try it. Hoping to have enough to sell for our next growing season.
    R. Demarco. Greenwich Tea burners tea.

  3. Hi Sara,
    I have enjoyed your series on growing tea. I like your perspective. Where I grow sinensis in north Florida a cold snap in the spring can delay harvest for a month or more while a spell of drought and heat will kill young plants that aren't protected and irrigated. I think it's going to take some time for growers in the US to develop methods for adapting tea to our challenging environments. But for me the process sure has been fun!

    If you think that your readers would appreciate more information on growing tea, please share this article that I've written about my experiences getting a tea garden up and running.