You may already be familiar with the many plants that can be grown for teas in the UK, from chamomile to mint, to a range of fruits. But are you aware that you can also grow the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, surprisingly easily in the UK, especially when you have a polytunnel to offer a little extra heat and protection. A number of different types of familiar tea can be created from the harvest from these plants.
It will take a long while to grow tea from seed and can be an unreliable process. For this reason, most people start with a small plant or a rooted cutting when growing their own. When choosing a location in your polytunnel or another sheltered spot for tea, remember that when grown in ideal conditions, these plants can reach up to 3m in height. It is also possible, however, to grow tea in containers, and outside the south of England, this may be your best option. While tea can be grown well and successfully in the southern reaches of the UK, further north, tea plants will sometimes have to be moved from your polytunnel or their outside location to a sunny warm spot inside your home for the coldest part of the year, at least while the plants are young. Whether or not tea plants are hardy enough to stay in an unheated polytunnel all winter will depend on the exact conditions where you live. It is worth noting, however, that there are now a number of tea plantations across Scotland, selling quality teas grown in diverse locations.
Container growing is also a good option for those with chalky, alkaline soil, as tea likes a slightly ericaceous (acid) soil. Tea will also require a sunny location – light levels can be key to success when growing tea in the UK.
Humidity levels are also important so make sure the plants are not too dry and during dry spells, keep up the humidity in your polytunnel. Water regularly but make sure that the soil, or growing medium in your container, is free-draining and do not allow the roots of your plants to become waterlogged.
Tea is a versatile plant. Harvesting the small, fresh leaves from the tips of the plants throughout the summer will encourage bushiness and fresh new growth. Leaves can be brewed for a cuppa and can also be used here and there in salads or sandwiches (just be careful not to overdo the caffeine). There is a lot of satisfaction to be had in growing your own tea for that morning cup.