Tea is great for drinking, but that isn’t the limit of its benefits to humanity. Gardeners also have a special relationship with tea since it can act as a natural fertilizer for many plants and provide others with the trace minerals they need to thrive.
Leftover tea leaves are enjoyed by acid-loving plants like rhododendrons, berry bushes, and hydrangeas. Plants also benefit from being fertilized with leftover liquid tea since it can provide minerals and nutrients that help them thrive. Tea shouldn’t be used on plants that prefer alkaline soil.
If you’ve got leftover tea bags, don’t throw them away! Keep reading to learn which plants in your garden you can fertilize with tea and how they like to take it.
Using Tea Leaves with Garden Plants
Tea contains many nutrients that are good for various plants, but it’s especially useful when paired with acid-loving plants. This is because most teas contain high amounts of tannins, naturally occurring polyphenols that give tea its distinctive bitter taste. These tannins are great for enhancing tea’s antioxidant and antimicrobial qualities, but they make the tea acidic.
Different garden plants prefer different soil pH levels depending on their natural habitat and their required growing conditions. Herbal teas are generally pH-neutral or close to it, but teas that contain Camellia sinensis leaves tend to be acidic. While many garden plants can tolerate an occasional acidic fertilizer, some are sensitive to pH.
Why Is Tea Good for Plants?
Tea is a popular homemade fertilizer for savvy gardeners, but what exactly is it in tea that makes it so beneficial to plants? Here are just a few of the ingredients in tea that make it a great replacement for commercial fertilizer:
- Tannins: These polyphenol chemicals help make the soil more fertile, especially if tea grounds are added directly to the garden soil and allowed to decompose.
- Trace minerals: Tea contains vital nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium that plants use to help expand their growth and produce fruit.
- Nitrogen: Tea contains nitrogen, a vital nutrient that plants use to put on new foliage and grow larger. Lack of adequate nitrogen can lead to yellowing and stunted growth.
No matter which way you cut it, tea can pack a wallop of nutrition in a tiny package. It can basically function as a vitamin boost for your vegetables and your flowers alike.
Types of Plants That Like Tea Leaves
There are many commonly-used garden plants that enjoy being treated with used tea leaves as a fertilizer. Here are a few of the most popular species:
- Ferns: Tea leaves can help keep acid-loving ferns looking fresh and green all season. Note that maidenhair ferns do not like tea leaves, so they’re an exception to the rule for feeding tea to ferns.
- Roses: Roses are among the most popular garden flowers in North America and Europe, and they’re known for being especially picky. This makes tea a great partner for helping to keep them happy.
- Hydrangeas: Hydrangeas are an acid-loving marsh plant with giant bunches of blooms that come in a wide range of colors from pink to bright blue. Acidic fertilizer is used to help bring out the blue coloration in hydrangeas.
- Spider plants: Spider plants are a robust houseplant that is hardy even without regular fertilizer, but giving these plants a tea treatment can send their growth into overdrive.
- African violets: African violets are a popular indoor flowering houseplant that can be somewhat tricky to maintain. However, ensuring that the plant has correct lighting and a regular dosage of acidic fertilizer can help encourage growth and bloom production.
These are just a handful of the plants that enjoy a treatment with either liquid tea or used tea bags.
The best rule of thumb is to always research the pH requirements and fertilizer recommendations for any individual species of plant you grow. This will help you make sure that tea is compatible with it. Since liquid tea is so diluted anyway, even plants that dislike acidic solutions don’t usually suffer a negative effect from being dosed with tea occasionally.
Advantages of Using Tea on Plants
Along with the nutritional value of using tea leaves on your plants, there are several other benefits you can get from saving your used tea bags and reusing them in the garden. Here are just a few advantages of saving your tea for your plants:
- Oxygenation: When tea grounds or used tea bags are added directly to the garden’s soil, they help break the soil up and improve oxygenation. This can allow garden plants to create stronger, more robust root structures.
- Water retention: When tea bags are added to the base of plants in the garden or in potted containers around the house, these bags can help hold moisture in the soil between waterings.
- Pest deterrence: Many garden pests dislike the strong smell of tea and coffee, so used tea bags are a useful natural pest deterrent to help control bugs, ground squirrels, and other wildlife that may damage your plants.
- Organic gardening: Using tea and other organic fertilizers instead of synthetic commercial fertilizers can help you maintain your plants without introducing a bunch of unnecessary chemicals to your food crops.
There are enough benefits associated with used tea bags and tea leaves that you should never have to throw your used tea in the trash again. If you don’t want to immediately use your used tea bags in the garden, keep an airtight metal container beside your tea kettle to hold used bags until you have a chance to take them outdoors.
How to Use Tea on Plants
The two major ways that tea is typically used on houseplants and plants in the garden is as a liquid or by planting used tea bags in the garden to decompose naturally. Leftover tea can be poured directly on the soil beneath plants. Be sure to let tea cool completely before using it in the garden to prevent damage from the heat.
Tea is a Useful Homemade Fertilizer
Except for a few very specific species, used tea leaves can provide a great source of nutrients for all sorts of plants in your garden and home. So if you enjoy lush foliage, delicious vegetables, and luscious blooms, think twice before throwing that used tea bag out!
The Takeaway: Acid Loving Plants Like Tea Leaves
Plants that thrive in acid-rich soil can benefit from brewed tea as well as spent tea leaves. These plants include hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and berry bushes, to name a few. So if you’re wondering if tea leaves are good for plants, the answer is yes, especially if they are plants that love acid soil.