Monthly Archives: September 2015

Tea Plant Seedling (Camellia sinensis)
Sep 29

Video: How to Transplant Tea Plant Seedlings (Camellia sinensis)

By Tygh Walters | Uncategorized

Two Camellia sinensis seedlings.

Two Camellia sinensis seedlings.

Germinating plants from seed is an exciting adventure. At the Piedmont Tea Co. we want to encourage diversity in our tea plants in order to select varieties that are well suited for the unique climate of the Georgia Piedmont.

If you’re interested in growing your own tea plants from seed, check out our 3-video series entitled, “Tea Seed Germination“.

Raising Tea Plant Seedlings

In September/October of 2014, we collected tea plant seeds from numerous mother bushes throughout the Georgia Piedmont. Then, in the summer of 2015, after the seeds had germinated, it was time to transplant them from the germination tray into individual pots.

Seeds from a semi-wild plant somewhere in the Georgian Piedmont; sown in September; Germination evident in April.

Seeds from a semi-wild plant somewhere in the Georgian Piedmont; sown in September; Germination evident in April.

As 1st generation tea growers, we are learning everything for the first time. One mistake we made was waiting too long to transplant the seedlings. As you can see in the video, the root systems of these tiny seedlings were more developed than expected by the time we transplanted them in early July.

When transplanting nearly any plant, it is important to cause as little disruption to the roots as possible. Theoretically, transplanting these seedlings at an earlier stage is better, since many of the lateral roots are not developed.

Even though we did not transplant this year at the “ideal” time, we’ve seen minimal losses in this lot, and expect most of them to continue thriving.

Moving forward, we will continue to refine our process in order to maximize our germination rates, while also considering the time and effort that goes into germinating tea plants from seed.

Step-by-Step Tea Plant Transplanting

Step 1: Obtain potting medium or soil

In this video I used a potting medium blend of 50% ground pine bark (plus other proprietary ingredients) and 50% native soil (mostly consisting of sand). You can recreate this mixture with ingredients from any local home & garden store.

Soil Medium Moisture

Tea plants require sharp drainage, as their roots are sensitive to over-watering. The right soil medium is key to maintain optimal moisture, as some mixtures stay very wet while others drain quickly and completely.

I have killed several of my tea plants by watering them too much! At Goodness Grows, the nursery where this video was recorded, we water all Camellia species less frequently than 90% of the other plants we sell- apparently they like to be drier than most.

My former co-worker used to say, “make ’em beg for water”, when referring to how to care for tea plants… She was right…

Soil Medium pH

Camellia sinensis is an acid-loving plant. Tea plants thrive when the soil is between 4.5-5.5 on the pH scale, with a pH of 7 being neutral. There is an excellent in-depth article on this topic at the United States of tea Growers blog, written by Nigel Melican.

I have not tested the pH of the soil medium I used, however, I know from prior soil tests that the native soil in my area is acidic (~5.5) and I know that pine bark is inherently acidic too.

***NOTE: Many standard potting soils are NOT suitable for tea plants, as many remain too wet and are pH balanced to be more alkaline to accommodate vegetable growers. Typically, garden vegetables grow best in a pH that is more neutral (6.5-7) and that is why vegetable gardeners will add lime to their garden beds; to raise the pH. As tea plant growers, we often need to lower the pH.

One method to lower the pH of alkaline soils is to add a soil acidifier like Aluminum Sulfate or other Sulfer-containing product. It’s great to use on Hydrangeas, Blueberries, and Azaleas too:

See the guaranteed analysis.

Step 2: Obtain plant containers

We transplanted our seedlings from the germination tray into 1-gallon plastic pots. They will be able to live in these pots for several years until they are out-planted in the ground or “potted up” into larger 3-gallon or 5-gallon containers.

I sourced my recycled pots from the MASSIVE pot pile at the nursery I work at. If you’re frugal like me, there is an excellent chance you can source your containers from a nearby nursery, they usually have an abundance of them and since you’re passionate about horticulture/agriculture, you should know the folks at your local nurseries anyway!

If you’re an “urban” tea grower like me, or simply not in the vicinity of a free pot pile, you can get 1-gallon pots shipped directly to your house in 2 days:

Step 3: Transplant Seedlings

  • Be gentle, use a tool such as a fork to separate seedling roots.
  • Pack seedling into new container with new soil and medium pressure.
  • Leave at least 1 inch between the rim of the container and the top of the soil.
  • Keep roots within the top 1-3 inches of the soil.

Step 4:  Move seedlings to 50-75% shade and water them.

  • 50-75% shade will help the seedlings recover from transplant shock.
  • Monitor the seedlings frequently for soil moisture.
    • Soil that is wet to the touch is OK. Stick your finger in there and get dirty…
  • One overlooked factor in raising tea plants is the pH of the water used for irrigation. Sometimes, water that is too alkaline can inhibit tea plant growth.

Large scale irrigation water acidification setup for tea plant cuttings at Mississippi State University: Mississippi Tea Project.

Irrigation water acidification at Mississippi State University.

Irrigation water acidification at Mississippi State University.

Fukuoka & Tea Plant Seedlings?

In the video, I mentioned the book, “One Straw revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka. I was inspired by Fukuoka’s “Do-Nothing” farming philosophy and I am learning to be receptive to ways that I can simplify my methods so that they require less input.

Do you have any questions or comments about transplanting tea plant seedlings? Leave your reply below, I’d love to hear from you!