The roots of the tea bush grow towards gravity. The bushes that grow on a horizontal surface first penetrate the shallow top layer of soft arable soil and then gradually reach the deeper layer of hardened subsoil. Topsoil is softer and contains more air, which makes it easier for the roots to penetrate and grow deeper. On the contrary, subsoil is a more densely compressed stratum in which it is more difficult for roots to spread into.
Tea growing on different surfaces
When bushes are planted on a flat surface, the roots can grow only as deep as the subsoil and then have more difficulty to spread from there on. But when the bushes are planted on a sloping surface – for example that of a mountain – then the roots can grow longer as they diagonally transgress through the topsoil. Having longer roots makes the bushes stronger, more stable, and allows them to obtain more nourishment from the soil underneath. The bushes that grow on sloping surfaces generally generate thicker, more robust and longer roots in comparison to the one that grow on horizontal surfaces. Although such a sloping environment makes the mechanization of tea growing more difficult and demands more intensive labor from the producer, it allows the tea to become more energetic and well nourished by giving thought to the natural growth of the roots. Another feature of bushes that are cultivated on sloping surfaces is that the competition between bushes to obtain sunlight is less. This creates a better environment for evenly divided photosynthesis.
Cultivars vs. seed grown bushes
Another consideration that is contemporarily less taken into consideration is the way roots develop depending on how the bushes are propagated. Common tea growing practices rely on cultivars, which are grown from cuttings for the creation of new tea farms. About the characteristics and benefits of cultivars I will elaborate more in a following chapter, but here I wish to indicate a few points that apply to the understanding of how roots develop in the case of a cultivar as opposed to those bushes grown from seed. Planting tea bushes from cuttings, maintains all exact characteristics of the specific cultivar they are taken from, which in turn allows the farmers to anticipate the growth and end result of one whole tea garden at once. This means that when a tea garden is comprised of only the same species, the rows of bushes grow at an even pace, produce an equal amount of crop, and are invariable as to color, taste and appearance.
On the other hand, when bushes are seed propagated, their consistency in specifications is lost, the bushes return to their ancestral form, and develop unique traits of their own. There is also the possibility that the seeds are affected by pollen, which again affect their DNA in a different way. To explain this phenomenon with an easy analogy, whereas cultivars are exact copies or clones of each other, a farm of seed propagated bushes can be seen as a house of children from the same parents. Each child, while maintaining some similarities due to their parental origin, develop unique traits of their own. That goes to say that bushes grown from seed do not maintain the same specification as cultivars do even when they are taken from the same parent, and thus the color of the leaf, the speed with which the leaf grows, the amount of leaf produced, and a variety of other specifications vary in comparison to each other.
Characteristics of roots
But what is more important is the understanding of how roots develop on bushes propagated from either seed or cutting, as this eventually most greatly affects their health and vigor. Since cuttings are in fact pieces that were taken from branches, the roots too develop in a way that resembles the growth of branches. As a result, when the cutting produces roots, it produces roots in the way it was genetically programmed to produce roots, thus expanding sideways. On the contrary, when plants grow from a seed, the initial stimulation is to grow a stem upward and a strong root downward, first to build a steady base, only to secondarily produce and expansion of branches and sideway roots. This creates a much stronger root that digs deeper into the soil to reach layers of nourishment, which cultivars would rarely get to.
Tea growing during hibernation
When the bushes are at rest during the winter periods, they try to accumulate as much starch and nourishment in their roots to cope with the winter frosts. It is this starch that is in early spring transported to the branches to produce fresh buds and leaves. When the vessels in which nourishment is gathered – in other words, the roots – are long and thick, the amount of nourishment that will become the source for the growth of new buds will become greater, and to a larger extent impact the traits in flavor and aroma of that specific bush. Simultaneously, When the roots of the bush are allowed to thoroughly penetrate the soil, which is rich and varied in minerals – take for example the soil from old lake Biwa – it is believed that the tea produced from such bushes will thoroughly express the traits of the whole of the natural environment in which it was grown. Understanding that the roots on tea bushes roots grow in different ways when propagated differently also helps to understand that the surfaces on which the plants develop are of similar importance. While the shallow roots of a cultivar may never reach the subsoil on a horizontally oriented farm, the roots of seed propagated tea bushes may rapidly find themselves at limit. Although most manufacturers nowadays prefer the benefits of flattened surfaces, and the equality of cultivars of which the roots needn’t grow too deep to obtain nourishment from the artificial admonishment the farmer so scrupulously feeds them, I believe is safe to say that seed propagated bushes cultivated on the slanted surface of a natural mountain slope grow stronger, healthier and more energetically, resulting in a more naturally authentic tea product.