Like coffee, tea bags and loose-leaf tea are also used as fertilizer for houseplants. I must confess that I have never used nor were ever inclined to use tea bags on my houseplants until very recently.
How good are tea bags for houseplants? Should you use them as fertilizer? And which tea is better for houseplants?
Apparently used tea bags — and brewed tea — contain a handful of nutrients beneficial to both plants and humans. The naturally occurring tannic acid in tea has beneficial effects on plant health.
In this article, I will go over the benefits of using tea bags as plant fertilizer, how to use them, and which plants drive the most benefits from tea grounds as fertilizer.
Benefits of Using Tea Bags as Fertilizer
If you’re keen on reducing your waste and using tea bags as a natural source of nutrients for your plants, here are the benefits you can expect:
– Enriching soil with healthy nutrients
Tea bags and used loose-leaf tea contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium in varying amounts, all of which are great for your plants.
The natural tannic acid content of tea leaves leech into the soil, supposedly lowering the pH and making the soil slightly more acidic.
This is great news for acid-loving plants, but not so great for plants that prefer alkaline soil.
– Adding organic matter to soil
Tea leaves added to a compost or soil improve the quality of the soil and help beneficial microorganisms.
Whether you add your tea leaves to a compost pile or directly work them into the soil, you can improve drainage of the soil, help it better retain moisture and create an environment that also benefits earthworms.
– Fighting fungus
Some teas have fungus fighting properties that can help inhibit fungal growth both on the surface of the soil and even on the foliage of plants. Teas most commonly used for their anti-fungal properties include chamomile and black tea.
How to Fertilize Your Plants with Tea Bags?
The question is whether to use the tea bags directly or use only the loose leaves from the tea bag? Also, should you work the tea into the soil or sprinkle it on top of the soil? And finally, should you use composted tea leaves or uncomposted ones?
The answer to the first question is “It depends on the tea bag”. If the tea bag is made of polypropylene or polyester, remove the loose leaves from the bag and discard the bag.
You can add tea bags to the soil only if they’re made out of paper, which will decompose easily. You should add these to the draining parts of the soil and not on top of the soil.
You can both sprinkle tea leaves on top of the soil like you would add mulch to the soil or work the leaves into the soil.
And finally, I recommend first composting your tea leaves, and only then add them to the soil. This way you can further enhance the beneficial properties of these leaves and potentially avoid issues related to caffeine content and acidity of soil.
Ultimately, you can do a little experiment of your own and use composted tea leaves on some of your plants and uncomposted tea leaves on other plants. And compare the results.
If your plants do better with one or the other, you will have undeniable proof about which works best for your houseplants.
That said, in vegetable gardens, most gardeners will recommend using composted tea leaves as not to disturb the flavor or soil pH of your veggies.
Which Plants Like Tea Grounds?
Generally, tea grounds are recommended for acid-loving plants. These include roses, tomatoes, ferns, Camellias, Azaleas, Blueberry plants, gardenias, and African Violets.
You can add small amounts of composted tea leaves to any acid-loving houseplants, especially if you’re drinking non-caffeinated teas.
Are Unused Tea Leaves Good for Plants?
There’s a consensus among gardeners that unused tea leaves aren’t ideal for your plants. When you brew tea, you help speed up the fermentation process, which helps with the release of nutrients.
The beneficial effects of unbrewed tea leaves will be much delayed if you use them instead of brewed leaves.
Besides, some teas like green tea contain small amounts of caffeine, which isn’t good for plants. With brewing some of that caffeine is seeped away from the leaves. And composting will further reduce its effects.
In conclusion, use the tea leaves after you’ve brewed your tea, and better yet, allow the leaves to compost first.
Black Tea or Green Tea – Which is Best for Plants?
From a human health perspective both black tea and green tea are equally beneficial, although green tea has higher antioxidant properties, while black tea contains theaflavins unique to it.
In terms of plant health, however, black tea has a higher caffeine content than green tea, and therefore, it’s less likely to be as beneficial to your plants as green tea, which has a lower caffeine content.
What about milk and sugar?
While I don’t take my tea with milk or sugar, many people do, especially black tea consumers. Both milk and sugar can help the proliferation of microorganisms in the soil, not all beneficial to your plants.
So, you may want to remove your tea bag or strain your tea before adding any milk or sugar to it.
If you are an avid tea drinker, you may want to save up your used loose-leaf tea and tea bags and throw them on your compost pile to create a natural, organic fertilizer that’s rich in nutrients essential to your houseplants.
Use the tea leaf compost as mulch on the soil or work it into the potting medium to enrich the organic materials in the soil, improve drainage and moisture retention and control fungal growth.
Make sure your tea bags are compostable (like those made out of paper or other compostable materials), if not, remove brewed tea leaves from the bag and discard polypropylene bags.