Most people don’t realize that tea comes from a camellia. Yes, that’s right. It's camellia sinensis, commonly known as the tea plant.

All teas — black, green, white and oolong — come from the same plant. They only differ in the way they are processed. Black teas are fully dried; oolong is partially dried; green and white teas are made from freshly picked leaves.

Tea plants can be grown in Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7-9 in acidic, well-drained soils that are high in organic matter. Tea plants, like other camellias, are a great understory plant in piney woods that offer acidic soils.

These plants need even moisture and tolerate early morning sun. But they don’t perform well in full sun or afternoon sun. Roots suffer from summer heat and strong winds, so it is important to apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch (preferably pine straw) at the base of the plant.

In south Louisiana, alkaline soils can cause problems. But the addition of an acidifier, such as elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate and iron sulfate, will help lower the pH where necessary. In north Louisiana, young plants may suffer from freezing temperatures.

Older, established tea plants only need rainfall and are a great deal more tolerant of full sun and drying winds. Less so for younger plants, which should be watered regularly.

Fertilize tea plants with azalea-camellia fertilizer or complete fertilizer such as 13-13-13 in late winter before new growth begins.

This shrub makes an excellent ornamental or edible (the leaves can be used for tea) choice for your landscape. The glossy, dark evergreen foliage and delicate white flowers give it its noteworthy characteristics. Plants typically bloom in late fall with small, inconspicuous white and yellow flowers.

Growing 10 to 15 feet tall, tea plants can be trimmed to keep them at 4 to 6 feet.

Camellias can be susceptible to leaf spots, black mold, petal blight, canker and root rot caused by fungal diseases, which can be controlled with fungicides if managed properly. Iron chlorosis can be a problem in alkaline soils and remedied with an acidifying iron supplement. Scale, aphids and spider mites are the main insect pests.

Plant these trees in shady or protected areas of your landscape. They makes a great foundation shrub for around the home.

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