How to Use Tea Leaves in Your Garden (and When You Shouldn’t)

How to Use Tea Leaves in Your Garden (and When You Shouldn’t)
Photo: TOLGA AKMEN, Getty Images

Some perennial veggies provide natural fertiliser for themselves and nearby plant life. The same goes for herbs. Old and used tea bags provide nitrogen, tannic acid, and other components that help make a healthy growing environment.

Nitrogen is a leading component of many store-bought fertilisers, and (depending on the type) there’s a lot more of it in composted tea bags. We’ve already reported on the benefits of chamomile in your garden, but what other ways can tea nurture your plant life? Here are some situations tea should and shouldn’t be used in your garden.

Which plants can use tea bags as fertiliser?

Teabags, when applied to your garden, alter the soil’s PH balance. Plants that need a higher acidity to grow will thrive with a tea bag compost fertiliser, while the herbal additive will damage those that need alkaline soil to grow.

Plants like rose bushes and ferns benefit greatly from loose-leaf, or tea bags spread directly around the base of the plant. You can boil a pot of tea with one to two tea bags, let cool overnight, then pour directly onto the plants’ leaves and stem. To provide extra moisture control and keep out some pests, bury the tea bag in the soil surrounding the plant. The bag will filter and trap needed moisture while the leaves create a better environment for growth. Plants like cacti or Boston Ivy cannot handle the acidity tea promotes, so tea bags should not be used for those kinds of plants.

How to compost tea for your garden

The nitrogen and tannic acid in tea accelerate the composting process, making it a perfect candidate for absorption into plants. You can cut open the tea bag after use and sprinkle the innards into your compost, or throw the whole bag in. You want to watch out for any unnatural ingredients used to make the tea bags, though, as those will not compost and could harm your plants. Tea Bags that look and feel almost like paper or cotton are fine, but the silky or plastic-like bags should be thrown in the trash.

Home Guides by SFGate gives detailed instructions on composting with tea bags. Put the tea bags in bins three to five feet wide and four feet tall, and mix with one part other organic materials (coffee grounds, banana peels, grass clippings, and so on) and three parts “carbon-rich” materials like dried leaves.

Turn the compost pile every week to aerate it and water it occasionally to keep it damp. After four to six months, the materials should decompose into brown, crumbly compost that you can work into your garden’s soil.

How tea can germinate seedlings and repair your lawn

The decomposition of tea leaves emulates the process of natural germination in the wild. You can even grow new seeds directly inside an old teabag.

Soak the teabags in water and cut a small hole in the bag to stick in your seed. Put the teabags on a wet paper towel in a plastic tray away from direct sunlight to sprout, making sure the paper towel stays moist during the process. Once the new growth reaches about two centimetres, plant them directly into your garden, teabag and all.

Because of the germinating power of tea bags, they’re also great for repairing damaged patches in your lawn; just put a wet tea bag wherever you see a dead patch or a bald spot on your lawn, then place your lawn seeds on top. The tea bag will decompose, creating a growth bed for your lawn patch. As Plant Care Today says, “some gardeners soak their grass seed in liquid composted tea before sowing,” and because tea speeds up the composting process, you’ll have full new grass in no time.

 

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