Story and Photography by Yvonne Lelong Bordelon
As a tea lover, I am pleased to report that the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), which is the source of white, green, black, oolong and also fermented teas, can be grown in Louisiana. The attractive shrub’s dark evergreen leaves and fragrant white flowers do well in the landscape or planted in containers. As a bonus, when the plants are 3-4 years old, you can begin harvesting the youngest leaves in early spring to process into the tea of your choice.
LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station has been working with growers and enthusiasts since 2013 so that tea plants will be available at your local garden centers. Companion plants include any that grow in acid soil and part-sun conditions such as blueberries (Vaccinium), citrus, and flowering cherry (Prunus spp.).
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Tea plant, tea camellia
Botanical Name: Camellia sinensis
Varieties/Cultivars to Look For: ‘Big Leaf’, ‘Small Leaf’, and ‘Golden Leaf’
USDA Hardiness Zone(s): 7-9
Blooming Period: Fall; seedpods appear in spring and summer
Bloom Color: White and fragrant
Type: Evergreen shrub
Mature Size: Up to 15 feet if not pruned
Exposure: Sun to partial shade; best with afternoon shade.
When to Plant: Fall through early spring
How to Plant: Plants have growing conditions similar to blueberries and citrus. They do well spaced approximately 6 feet apart in raised beds in moist, well-drained, acidic soil. Mulch with pine needles and water frequently for the first two years, then regularly after that. Propagate from seeds and stem cuttings.
When to Prune: In late winter to promote new leaf growth. Harvest the two newest leaves on each stem in early spring and late spring or early summer.
When to Fertilize: Spring and early summer with camellia fertilizer
In Your Landscape: If kept pruned to 3-4 feet, tea plants are easier to harvest and can be used as hedge or in the garden with herbs.