Did you know that putting tea bags in garden soil helps to add nutrients? Or that they can help keep pests at bay? Far from just being fodder for your compost heap, your used tea bags are immensely beneficial to many kinds of plants. Let’s take a look at what they’re good for, and how to use them.
Tea Bags in Garden VS Coffee
I used to use coffee grounds in my garden on a regular basis. Sadly, I’ve recently had some pretty major stomach troubles and found out that I’m much better off not drinking coffee. As such, I’ve now become a tea-only type of girl, although man do I ever still love the smell of coffee!
Since I can only drink tea now, I started thinking about all the tea bags I use on a regular basis. Naturally, being the person I am, I researched how they could be beneficial to my garden as well.
I was really happy to learn that the answer was indeed a resounding “YES”. Beyond the act of cutting down on waste, there are actually quite a number of ways you can use discarded tea bags. f this is something you’ve been wondering about, read on! We’ll dive into what you can do with them, and how to go about doing so.
Good Bags and Bad Bags
Before we get started, I’d like to touch upon the type of bags your tea comes in. Basically, some are compostable and some aren’t. If the tea bag feels slippery to the touch, put it in the “no” pile. This is because there’s a good chance it’s synthetic, and won’t biodegrade.
If you’re unsure, check the box. Most boxes list the materials that were used to bag the tea. If the bag is indeed synthetic, remove the plant contents from it before proceeding. If you’re confident that the bag is made of natural fibers, then you can go ahead and use the whole thing.
There are some vegetables that prefer to grow in sandier soil, such as carrots. While the looser soil makes it easier for the carrots to grow, it also makes water retention difficult. It’s really frustrating to water your plants, only to watch most of it pour out the bottom of the container.
It’s important to maintain moisture levels in containers with fast-draining soil. To do this, place a tea bag over each of the drainage holes, before adding soil. This will be especially helpful on extremely hot summer days when you aren’t home to water your plants several times as needed.
Why Adding Tea to Soil is So Helpful
Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a bag of potting soil? If so, you’ve probably noticed that there really isn’t a lot of actual soil. The material used for container planting is formulated to help with drainage issues. It also helps with nutrient deficits, but it can—and does—get depleted. We’ve already discussed how tea bags can help drainage issues. Now, let’s look at how they can help to combat the lack of nutrients in container soil.
Just about any type of tea can be used to add extra nutrients to your garden. Black, white, green, and oolong specifically are great for adding extra acidity to the soil. Acid-loving plants such as corn, carrots, and cucumbers are just a few on that list.
To use teabags for adding acidity, place a couple of bags in a teapot. Pour boiling water over them, and let them steep overnight. Remove the tea bags in the morning and use the liquid to water your acid-loving plants. Set the bags side to dry. We’ll go over how to use them a little later in the article.
Be Careful About Making Soil Too Acidic
Another cautionary note: while some plants will absolutely benefit from a boost in acidic content, others won’t. In fact, adding acid to their soil can actually harm them. Some plants such as beets, sweet peas, and asparagus prefer a more alkaline environment for their roots.
Make sure to research your plants’ needs before adding liquid tea or tea leaves to their soil. You want your plants to benefit, rather than having an adverse reaction. Once you have this information, you may consider marking your plants for easy identification.
Besides disease, pests are one of the biggest inhibiters to growing a healthy garden. For plants that will benefit from the addition of tea, tannins can help to get rid of some pests. Sprinkle tea directly on the soil and leaves of plants that are prone to infestation. Pests such as aphids and caterpillars are deterred by the tea’s high acidic content.
Tea Adds Nitrogen
One of the most important things tea bags do for a plant is that they add nitrogen to the soil. Plants feed themselves through a process called photosynthesis. This process is only possible using chlorophyll, of which nitrogen is one of the main elements. Nitrogen is also an important factor in the plants’ ability to produce protein.
The best way to deliver the nutrients from the tea bags to your plants is to slit open the bags and mix the contents directly into the soil. Alternatively, you can bury the whole teabags directly into the soil. You can use a trowel to mix the contents in, but I find I prefer to use my hands.
That way I feel like I have more control over exactly where the material that I’m adding is going. As you go about your watering, the contents will break down. They’ll release their nutrients into the soil for the plants to ingest.
Improved Iron Levels
Another important element in the photosynthetic process is iron. If your plants are iron deficient, they can appear yellow and sickly. On the other hand, plants that are have a healthy amount of iron are known to produce a larger more nutritious harvest. From this, we can gather that adding iron to your plants won’t just benefit the plants themselves, but you as well.
Tea itself doesn’t contain a substantial amount of iron, but it can be used as a carrier to deliver the iron. If you don’t have any iron supplements at home, you can purchase iron capsules without a prescription at the pharmacy. Open your tea bags and empty the contents into a bowl to dry.
This is also a good time to use those bags you’ve put aside from earlier on. Crack open one of the iron capsules and mix the contents in with the dried tea. Once you’ve done that, add water as if you were making a pot of tea and let sit for about 4 or 5 minutes. Pour the mixture onto the soil around your plants, and you should notice that they start looking healthier in very little time.
Another great use for teabags that doesn’t require any deconstruction is to use the bags to germinate seeds before planting. This isn’t possible with all seeds, but does seem to work wonders for seeds that require near-constant moisture to sprout. For example, my success rate went up substantially if the seeds were allowed to germinate before being planted in soil.
I used to use damp paper towel to start some of my seeds, but as mentioned before, I’ve really been trying to cut down on my waste output. As such, using the teabags to moisten the seeds made perfect sense to me. When the seeds have sprouted, simply transfer the whole thing into the soil.
As the plants roots grow down through the bag, they’ll receive added nutrients. I realize that using just a couple of sheets of paper towel may not be a huge amount of waste, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and I have to hope that every little bit helps.
Along with adding the used tea leaves directly to your containers, add those used teabags into your compost pile. The added nutrients along with the boost in nitrogen will help to promote quicker breakdown of the plant matter in the bin. There’s an added bonus to tossing the teabags into the compost pile. They won’t raise the soil’s acidity level as much as if you were to add them directly to the containers.
While you need to be careful which plants you add tea leaves to directly, you can feel safe adding tea-infused compost to any plants without any problems at all. Depending on the type of tea bags you use, you may need to remove the staples that attach the string to the bag. I don’t wear gloves while working with my plants, and the last I want is to snag my hand on a rusty old staple.
Now that you know how beneficial used tea bags can be for your garden, you can feel good about your daily habit. You even have a good excuse to up your daily intake. So go ahead, have another cup and then put those tea leaves to work for you and your garden.