by Connie Oswald Stofko
If you want a really different kind of plant to grow indoors this fall and winter, grow tea.
Yes, tea. The stuff you steep in hot water and drink.
You can buy Sochi tea, a tea plant from the Sochi area of Russia, at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg.
Our climate is almost, but not quite, mild enough to grow tea outside all year long in our gardens, said Fred Safford, who is in charge of trees and shrubs at Lockwood’s. Sochi tea is the plant that can be grown the farthest north, but it’s hardy only to Zone 7, and most of us in Western New York are in Zone 6 or 5. (Find out what USDA zone you’re in here.)
In Western New York, Sochi tea can be brought indoors for the winter and grown as an indoor plant. Keep the plant in a pot and move it outside in spring.
Sochi tea plants will be dramatic indoor plants– They get six feet tall.
“They’re fairly easy to grow,” Safford said
The Latin name is Camellia sinensis, and in the fall the tea plant gets five-petaled white flowers that resemble camellia flowers. They’re very fragrant.
If you want green tea, you pick the fresh leaves, Safford said. For white tea, you pick the buds. For black tea, you need to dry or ferment the leaves..
During the winter, put the plant near a sunny window; it won’t tolerate shade. (You might be able to keep it in an unheated garage, Safford said, but where’s the fun in that?)
In the spring, you can take it outside once the danger of frost has passed. Safford suggests keeping the plant in the pot. Some people grow tea plants in wooden planters or whiskey barrels and attach wheels or castors to the planter to make it easier to move.
Let the plant get used to the more intense outdoor sun gradually. Unlike most other houseplants, the Sochi tea plant can take full summer sun, he said.
With your own tea plant, you can have a cup of fresh tea anytime you want.