It has been a year since we picked our first batch of tea leaves, and, well, things haven’t been so pretty lately. Back in the winter of 2010, we transplanted our three Camellia sinensis bushes from a trio of pots in Sunset’s sunny test garden to a more shaded spot under a large magnolia tree. We’re first timers with the whole tea thing, and unfortunately, it’s showing. One plant is apparently dead:

Another one of our tea bushes is sick:

And although the third is producing a few shiny young leaves perfect to pick now for tea, it mostly looks beaten down:

According to Sunset’s Garden Girl, test garden coordinator Johanna Silver, it’s “not as happy as it absolutely could be.” In other words, we’re (barely) one for three. Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears—we’re trying to get them all juuuust right.

So Doctor Silver and I went back to her office for further diagnosis. The dead one has completely stopped budding (looks like it’s stuck in an eternal December), probably because its roots were having to compete with the magnolia’s. The sick one has brown speckles and reddish-brown rims around the oldest leaves, with tips that look downright ashy.

With the help of a book called Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs, Johanna determined that the sick one probably has leaf scorch, possibly from excess sun, but more likely from not getting enough water and nutrients. We water everything at Sunset regularly, but the tree roots surrounding the camellias may be hogging the water and soil.

The doctor’s prescription? Keep the plants in the same area, but transfer them back into pots. That should help us determine if our problem is the location or the soil.

We’re also going to reach out to the local experts at San Francisco Peninsula Camellia Society and see if we can take a look at a healthy Bay Area Camellia sinensis—if one exists! Hopefully, then, we can get back to the (intentional) withering and brewing. In the meantime, we’d welcome hearing any tips from growing your own tea. (Someone? Anyone?)

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