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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Growing Green Tea in the Hot Desert

Q. I live in Henderson and would like the challenge of growing Camelia sinensis var. sinensis (common name Tea Plant) here in the desert.  I am willing to put in the work if it means I can grow and brew fresh green tea from my own garden.  Do you have any thoughts or resources that you know of that I might be able to do more of my own research?  I am confident that anything can be grown in Southern Nevada with the proper care.

A. Growing tea will be a challenge but it can be done here. It is grown commercially in South Carolina and Alabama (mostly black oolong and green tea) at a similar latitude to Las Vegas. The problems you will face include soil improvement, protection from winter cold, protection from damaging winds, low humidity and high light intensities. It can handle the high temperatures if it gets some light shade and protection from late afternoon sun (after about 2pm). 

It goes without saying that the soil will have to be heavily amended with organic matter such as good quality composts. Tea can be watered with drip irrigation. Tea can be started from seed or cuttings. You could grow from seed, evaluate the plants that are productive separately and then take cuttings from your best selections and propagate these.

Light shade would mean no more than about 30% shade. This can be done with shade cloth or lattice on top of the growing area. One method you might try is to plant along a cement block wall that is facing south. Put your shade cloth above the plants and have it extend about 30 inches beyond the plants to the south. This will help provide some light shade during the summer months but allow the winter sun to shine under the shade cloth due to the lower sun angle in the winter.

I would also construct some wind barriers to the outside of the plants so that wind is redirected away from them or the wind is slowed enough it limits the damage from torn and wind battered leaves. Improve the soil existing there by heavily composting that soil or grow them in raised beds using composted soil mix. Paint the block wall dark brown or black to absorb winter heat so it can radiate heat from the wall during the night in the winter.

As temperatures drop to near freezing at night (around the first or second week in December) cover the growing area in plastic and also attach a thermal blanket that you can drop over the plastic at night. I would not use just a thermal blanket. It might not be enough. Thermal blankets alone will only give you about 6 F of protection while using plastic and the blanket will give you a lot more protection.

In the morning draw the blanket up and allow sun to heat up the growing area. If it is a warm day (above 45F) you can open the plastic as well. If it is a particularly cold day (below 40F) I would leave the plastic on but vent it the best you can for a few hours when it is warmest. Then recover it again when temperatures start dropping again into the danger zone around 4 PM or later. In our climate these types of days are rare.

In plastic protected culture of plants it is important to provide temperature control, control of humidity, control of wind and ventilation to exhaust the “bad” air during the night. This helps to prevent disease problems.

You will harvest the new growth, 2 to 3 leaves, and dry them carefully and not in full sun here or with high temperatures. Dry them outside in a shady location. One pound of leaves will produce about 1/4 pound of dried tea.

3 comments:

  1. You can grow it in Phoenix...so you can sure grow it in LV. I was at a incredible garden/orchard in north Mesa, AZ where the lady had a big tea plant in a container on her porch on the north side of the home (i.e., never direct sun except summer early AM and late PM. It is a challenge but not a terrible one. You will definitely be a rare fruit, er, tea grower. I didn't ask if the leaves made good tea.
    http://www.phoenixpermaculture.org/forum/topics/growing-tea?commentId=2008067%3AComment%3A309527

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  2. Thanks for this post! I was actually wondering about growing tea in Las Vegas myself, so this is a great find. <3

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