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Camellia sinensis - very confused about light requirements

 
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Ok, so I'm trying to decide where to place a few Camellia plants in our garden.

Most resources online say partial shade, that the plants prefer afternoon shade. Fine, but... what about all those photos I have seen of tea farms in Asia that are on hillsides or in fields with zero shade? If tea has been farmed in such a manner for millennia, one would imagine that the farmers have figured out the optimal formula for hours of sunlight. Just an example stock photo: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-herb-tea-plant-camellia-sinensis-field-mae-salong-mountain-chiang-rai-northern-thailand-image46621831

I'm divided. Do I place the plants in an area with shade or not? It seems like the plants will do fine in full sun based on traditional agriculture, but that does not negate the potential benefits of a healthier plant that receives slightly less light. Maybe the idea is to mimic the natural climate - tropical to subtropical - in which case more light would be beneficial in our Zone 8 environment.

Anyone who has grown any Camellia species (I have a Camellia sinensis and Camellia bokuhan), advice would be appreciated. Does full sun cause any harm?
 
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Hi Don. I think this is one of those 'it depends' questions.
My understanding is that Camellia tend to prefer damper cooler summers - they are mountain plants in China, and the plantations in India are often high in the mountains too, so although sub-tropics still relatively cool. If you have a hot summer therefore the camellias will appreciate a bit of shade.
I did do a bit of research on this myself (hoping to grow tea Camellia here) but my light levels are so low due to my lattitude that i need full sun (or as near it as I can get :) ) for my tea plants (which as yet are tiny seedlings on my window sill). There were some online references I found, but I'm not sure if I lost them when my tablet crashed...I'll check on my other PC for the back up if it exists.
It would be worth finding out whether you have Camellia sinensis sinensis or Camellia sinensis assamica, since the latter is much less cold hardy, but may prefer hotter summers as well - this is the variety that is grown more commercially in warmer climates.

I'm going for shelter as the most important thing for me, since the Camellia are evergreen, otherwise they will lose their leaves in our winter gales. Also raised mini hugel beds to create well drained but damp soil environment here (we get a lot of summer rain).
Do you grow the Camellia bokuhan for the flowers?
 
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shade seems to be more important during the winter/dormant period, especially in areas that are pushing the hardiness limits. frost/freeze damage seems to be somewhat less with some shade or cover. i agree with nancy though, that the need for shade is significantly less on a cloudy/foggy mountainside at 11000 ft elevation in taiwan, since direct blasting sunlight is already cut down.

you also may notice in many of those pictures of indian tea plantations that are frequently widely spaced tall trees among the tea that give the plants moving regions of shade as the sun moves. tea growing regions of china are wetter and need that cover less.

i’ve been working with 4 species of camellia here in mountain north carolina. i’ve had pretty good results planting near the base of a mostly NW-facing ridge, so the plants are in shade until mid-day but do get a lot of afternoon sun.

edit: that picture is from chang rai thailand, which is also basically a rainforest area. if you get lots of days without much cloud cover, a bit more shade will probably help you.
 
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Our second home had a camellia plant.  Is it a plant, tree, or shrub?

It was off our front porch behind an arborvitor.  I can't remember though I feel this spot got total shade.

The best I can remember, we lived there for about 15 years and I saw it bloom one time.  

I didn't know about making tea.
 
Don Komarechka
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Thanks for all the feedback!

Damper cooler summers. Nancy, thanks for this, which indicates that the plant would do well in an area that is not blasted with heat all day to dry the soil out - moisture is a factor that I hadn't considered.

Greg, we have a spot that gets afternoon sun but that stays more moist, due to the proximity to the house and the slope of the landscape. I think that might be the better spot for it, taking into account the primary focus on moisture coupled with a lack of sun at least for some part of the day.

Also, I bought the Camellia bokuhan for the flowers, coupled with some accounts of people making a satisfactory tea with it. I figured, why not try?

Finally, judging by the label I have a Camellia sinensis sinensis, since there is no other indicator on the label (see below). The plant looks healthy (minus a few bumps a bruises) and came to us from France. I usually leave potted plants in their pots for a few days after transport to inspect and ensure proper watering, but it'll find a place in the garden in the coming week.



Thanks so much for the help!
 
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Don Komarechka wrote:Finally, judging by the label I have a Camellia sinensis sinensis, since there is no other indicator on the label (see below). The plant looks healthy (minus a few bumps a bruises) and came to us from France.


Good luck with those Don! I would double check with the nursery whether they can confirm it is sinensis sinensis, (or what the overwintering requirements are) since there is a fair difference between the tho varieties in terms of hardiness. I did have some C. sinensis assamica overwinter here a couple of years with no protection, but they were never really happy and eventually died. We rarely get below -5 Celsius despite being so far North, due to the warming effect of the sea.
 
Don Komarechka
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Here's the nursery link: https://www.achat-vente-palmiers.com/en/camellia/322-10695-camellia-sinensis.html#/23-container-2_litres

While it only labels it as Camellia sinensis, it also indicates frost/cold hardiness down to -15C. We never get that cold here, so I believe it to be the right variety for our region - but that won't stop me from reaching out to confirm. :)
 
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If you are not sure if it's the tea plant, pick a leaf, crush it and check there's any tea aroma. You may even make a bit of tea right now with this plant. Green tea is from young tips and it takes more materials so it may not be a good choice. Red tea (fermented) or oolong tea ( partially fermented) use more mature leaves. If you have some leaves to spare, give them a try.
 
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Don Komarechka wrote:While it only labels it as Camellia sinensis, it also indicates frost/cold hardiness down to -15C.


I suspect you'll be OK. It does describe it as Chinese tea and at -15 C hardiness that also stacks up. :) Good luck.
 
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Finally, judging by the label I have a Camellia sinensis sinensis, since there is no other indicator on the label
end quote

Hi, Sherri here, commercial tea grower. Might I offer a few tips?

First, being Camellia sinensis sinensis means it is not Camilla sinensis assamica, the subspecies that was found in Assam India (sinensis means china)

It could be any number of thousands of varietals, so you don't know if it was developed for green black or oolong tea etc. But if you live where you get frost & freezes, then cold hardiness is your 1st priority.

Tea requires at least 80in rain a year so if you get less you need to water. They do not suffer drying out well, and your 1st indication they don't have enough water is they die.They do not get wilted first so beware.

Shade is usually given tea as a matter of quality. Green teas are better with more shade. In fact ceremonial matcha is covered for at least 2 weeks before harvest.

You can get great quality tea in full sun. In Hawaii I would process black tea in the summer and other teas the rest of the year (tea doesn't go dormant in Hawaii like the rest of the world).

You will get better production in full sun! (This is why Japanese tea is grown in full sun but shaded before harvest.

Tea likes soil to be a little acid, similar to blueberries.

Shaping you tea plant is a big part of getting production. The type of leaves you pick are critically important to your results. A flat tabletop waist high is ideal.

You only want to harvest fresh young and supple shoots. Bud tips are the best, and the industry standard is "two leaves and a bud". Just make sure whatever you pluck is soft and supple. If you are not getting leaf bud production your tea plants are not happy and you need to look at your cultivation practices.

You also want to get a big enough harvest at one time to process correctly. I've found it's very difficult to make good tea with less than 250g (half pound) but try to get at least a quarter pound at a time. (Over 500g or one pound is the upper limit how how much can be processed by hand.... your hands are only so big.)

With this in mind, try to plant enough plants and cultivate them so that you get a good enough flush of fresh buds and tips at a time to process a good batch, both size and quality of leaf.

Processing by hand is an art, but a lovely one. Doing it wrong will get you a bitter, nasty cuppa.

Tea has been nibbled by human hands for thousands of years and thrives on being plucked. Enjoy the process from plucking through processing to imbibing. It's truly one of the greatest pleasures I know.

If I can help in anyway, from planting to harvesting to processing and brewing (yes brewing technique matters) I'm happy to help! Aloha & happy brewing

 
Don Komarechka
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Sher Miller wrote:Hi, Sherri here, commercial tea grower. Might I offer a few tips?



WOW. Such a wealth of knowledge and super helpful - thanks Sherri! We are just trialing the tea plants now but you make an excellent point on moisture. To that end, I'll install a moisture sensor at the base of the plant to keep a close eye on it. We're looking at a RainPoint Smart+ ( https://www.rainpointonline.com/en-ca/collections/smart ) system that can automatically water the gardens based on certain criteria, including soil moisture. I also have some pH Down soil modifier on order for the blueberries I planted this year, so it's good to know I can use it for these tea plants as well.

It's our hope that we can purchase a plot of land neighbouring us (has an abandoned house, but getting ownership details here in Bulgaria is extremely difficult) and using the land to grow many things. Once I get a successful year or two with the tea plants we currently have, I will likely get more. :)
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