How we grow & nurture tea plants
Mulching young tea plants is an agricultural practice which helps reduce soil temperature and maintain moisture. We practice mulching on all of our tea estates across India, Bangladesh and Malawi as it is a highly successful method to ensure the survival of our young tea in hotter and dryer climates.
The mulching method & it’s benefits
Mulching consists of using layers of organic matter around the base of the tea plants. The mulch is placed along the line of the tea or in the inter rows leaving a ring of about 15 – 20cm around the base of the young plant to prevent from termite attack. This layer helps to cool the soil, retain moisture and prevents weeds, the mulch decomposes with time and contributes to organic matter build up in the soil. This technique creates a healthy environment for the young tea to grow strong and healthy. It significantly reduces the quantity of tea plant deaths meaning fewer infills. At least one top up of mulch is done 4 to 5 months after planting in order to maintain cover and enhance benefits.
Mulching is required until the plants have reached 5-6 years of age.
What mulch & where
There are different sources of organic material to use for mulching. The type used depends on the soil’s quality and its environment.
Across our Duncan Brothers tea plantations in Bangladesh, water hyacinth is used as a mulch. This is due to the climate in Bangladesh and availability of the material. Water hyacinth is an invasive plant that grows in the many waterways and so their removal for mulch helps to unblock them. A thick layer of water hyacinth lowers the soil temperature and reduces water evaporation during the dry season. When the matter breaks down it provides the soil with nutrients and prevents erosion.
In Malawi (at Eastern Produce Malawi), we use Guatemala grass (Tripsacum laxum) for tea mulching. Very high volumes of material can be generated from well planted and managed mulch production areas situated in the tea fields specially designed for this purpose.
Since we have improved our mulching techniques, we have significantly reduced the time for plants to come in to bearing as well lowering plant losses. Mulching ensures our plants survive and thrive along with the soils they are planted in leading to productive and healthy tea plants for the future.