When, How and Where do I plant it?
You can plant Sweet Tea nearly any time of year but we recommend planting them in spring when soil moisture is good. If planted in spring the plants will be better established by summer but it is perfectly acceptable to plant throughout the growing season. Sweet Tea is perennial and once established will come back from the roots every spring. The plants linger through the winter with very few small leaves at the base of the plant. It begins to slowly put on new growth in early spring. As night time temperatures begin to stay generally above 6 degrees it picks up the pace and grows vigorously in the heat of summer. Summer plantings do very well and often catch up with those planted in spring.
Sweet Tea is adapted to a wide range of soils. While Sweet Tea has a deep root system making it quite drought tolerant, it will not make as much browse in deep sand during dry times. It can tolerate some inundation for short periods but is not found growing in very wet soils. Generally, the soil should be fairly well-drained. It naturally occurs along shady edges and slopes where there is high organic matter.
Plant the plugs about a foot apart, to the depth of the rootball, in moist soil and pack them firmly to make sure there are no air pockets. We recommend planting in rows so the plants are easier to manage. This also keeps them out of the way of annual tillage. The plants eventually make a fairly dense hedge. We like to use a repellent like milorganite when first plant the plugs to give them a chance to root in. Otherwise they get pulled up very easily.
Fertilize with 10-10-10, applying 1-2 lb. per 100 feet of row at planting. As plants mature fertilizer can be increased during rainy periods of summer. One or two applications per year is sufficient to maintain good growth. However, as deer browse the plants potassium needs to be replaced so consider deer pressure when considering fertility. Protein levels and digestibility increase dramatically with fertilization and forage analyses with over 35% crude protein are not uncommon. Incidentally, it is also higher in calcium and phosphorus (critical for antler development) than iron clay peas, soybeans or alfalfa. Established Sweet Tea is most heavily browsed from June through September.
Try different spots!
Sweet Tea is a native plant, therefore it prefers certain areas over others and often it is hard to figure out exactly why. While I have grown this plant since 2010 I still haven’t completely figured it out. I will just say that some areas that seem to be perfect for Sweet Tea it seems to struggle while in other nearby areas it grows like crazy. I highly recommend trying small spots in several different areas to see where it grows best. When you find the right place you will be amazed at how much browse these plants produce. We are learning more about this plant every year but fertility definitely is one key to growing big, healthy plants. Organic fertilizers like manure and compost have produced 6’ tall plants in one growing season.
How do I manage it?
Sweet Tea will enter a sluggish state in late Summer as it goes to seed. Mowing to 12″ will return it to a vegetative state, producing more browse well into the fall and will tolerate a number of light freezes before eventually going dormant. Sweet Tea is a very fibrous, tough, almost woody plant which is one reason why it tolerates browsing so well. This can also make mowing difficult so if you decide to mow, make sure to have a sharp blade, get your RPM’s up and take it slow.