Young Tea Management

Various field management practices are followed in post-planting care to encourage early establishment and vigorous growth of tea plants as well as to increase their radial spread and longevity. These are shade, weed control, pest and disease control, drainage, irrigation, manuring and bush frame formation.

After planting, the area should be mulched adequately with green vegetative matter leaving a 10 cm distance from the collar of the plants uncovered. Sowing of green crops, e.g., Crotalaria anagyroides, Tephrosia candida, Priotropis cytisoides etc., in the young tea fields between alternate tea rows provides shade and generates mulching materials. This is particularly useful in droughty areas. The green crop has to be periodically lopped and the lopping left in situ to decompose.

The young plants should also be protected from pests and diseases using high volume sprays of suitable pesticides. If tea plants are affected by red rust, apart from spraying with copper fungicide as a control measure, it is also necessary to look for correction of drainage, shade, soil pH, and damage by drought etc.

Plants like Indigofera teysmanii, Melia azadirach, Gliricidia sepium etc., should be planted for providing temporary shade. They will be ready to provide shade within a year of planting and should be kept lopped periodically. Indigofera teysmanii is the most common species used for temporary shade and is propagated by means of seed, air-layering or stem cutting.

Weed growth is most vigorous in young tea fields during April to October warranting adequate control measures. Soon after planting, the ground is cheeled and mulched heavily or sprayed with a pre-emergent herbicide (simazine or oxyfluorfen). Subsequently hand weeding in rings of 15 cm radius around the collar of the plant is done. Herbicides spraying in young tea field is done with great care and using a protective shield.

Young tea fields should be adequately drained to avoid retention of excessive soil moisture and to promote root development. Ground should remain levelled, without any ridges and depressions, to prevent localized water logging. During dry periods, the first preference to irrigate should be given to young teas.

Manuring of young tea

After planting as soon as the plants have produced two or three new leaves, they can be foliar sprayed with NPK or NK mixture at fortnightly intervals till the plants have produced 4-5 new leaves. Well-established plants can be manured with YTD mixture (NPK 10:5:10 or 10:5:15 depending up on soil available potash status) at rates depending upon the spread of the bush as determined by age. During the first four years of the formative stage, plants are ring manured up to 4 splits while on 5th and 6th year; manures are applied in 2 splits. A general guide line is as follows:

Young tea manuring during formative stage

Year of planting
Nitrogen kg/ha
YTD manure Kg/ha
No. of splits
Application method
0 year
20-40
200-400
2-3
Ring
+ 1 year
80-100
800-1000
4
Ring
+ 2 year
100-120
1000-1200
4
Ring
+ 3 year
120-140
1200-1400
4
Ring
+ 4 year
140-150
1400-1500
2
Strip
+ 5 year
140-150
1400-1500
2
Strip

Foliar spraying of nutrients

Spraying of zinc sulphate and magnesium sulphate along with urea and MOP, depending upon season, cultivars and growth of plants have been useful.

Bush Frame

In the young tea plants, formation of a proper frame is achieved by the following three operations:
a) Decentering, lung prune, or debudding,
b) Formative prune 20-26 months after planting
c) Final Frame formation prune.

The objective of the first two operations above are to suppress centrally dominating apical growth and distribute vigour for even radial spread so that at the time of final frame formation, there is uniformity in distribution and thickness of branches at the pruning level.

The permanent frame is formed at a height, that will ensure optimum coverage of the ground as well as convenience in harvesting, by the pluckers. The height of permanent frame will be influenced by spacing and the cultivars of tea and should normally be at 35-45 cm from the ground level. Normally, there will be no need to prune the tea plant below this height during its economic life.

Decentering

The main stem is removed with a pruning knife at a height of about 20 cm from the ground. The operation should be done after the plants make one flush of growth following transplanting in the field and when they are at banji (dormant) stage. Root starch is considered important for recovery after decentering.

Lung Pruning or Thumb Pruning

The seedling is held between the thumb and the index finger at about 20 cm height and the stem is half broken in such a way that the tissues on one side are left intact for movement of water, nutrients and photosynthates. The broken portion should be bent towards the ground facing either south or west depending on row direction and should be removed after the branches below it produce a flush of growth and go banji. Lung pruning can also be done by using a small pruning knife. After development of side laterals, the broken portion is removed with a knife. After 6-8 weeks of decentering or lung/thumb pruning any leader primary should be head backed, depending on thickness, to 25-30 cm from the ground.

Debudding

Buds from the leaf axils are removed up to the normal level of 20 cm from the ground. Two weeks before debudding the top two and a bud should be nipped off from plants in the nursery. This will help the buds below to swell. Four to five days before the plants are taken out to the field they can be debudded in the nursery. Debudding in the nursery is more thorough, convenient and economical.

Frame Forming Prune

The frame forming prune should be given at a height 5-10 cm below the pre-determined height of the permanent frame. Thicker branches should be pruned down on merit (head back) and any congestion at the centre removed. Besides distributing the bush vigour to the peripheral branches, this prune results in the ramification of branches of even thickness on the permanent frame.

Permanent Frame

Bush architecture

An ideal bush frame is one which will have a three-tier branching system in the proportion of 1:3:7 at decentering/debudding, frame forming prune and permanent frame forming prune levels, respectively. Each tier of branches should have adequate thickness and number to support the one above it.

Number and thickness of branches

On an average there should be 26 to 32 branches on the permanent frame. Seventy percent of these branches should have a thickness of 0.5-1.0 cm. It should have a density of one stick per 100 sq. cm of frame area. The permanent frame should cover 36-40% of the ground area. Judicious pruning at the time of giving formative prune is important to achieve this objective.