New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is a deciduous shrub native to North America. Also sometimes known as mountain snowbell, it's best planted in early spring, after all risk of frost has passed. The upright plant boasts long woody stems with toothed, dark green leaves (which sometimes have hair on their undersides) and clusters of tiny fragrant white flowers.
A member of the Rhamnaceae (buckthorn) family, New Jersey tea will grow at a moderate pace, eventually reaching a mature height of 3 to 4 feet after about two seasons. The plant's unique name came about during the American Revolution. Tea was a bit scarce at the time (after all, imported tea tariffs helped lead to the start of the war), so a tea-like drink was made from the leaves of this shrub. Additionally, the blossoms and roots of the plant can also be used to make dyes.
|Botanical Name||Ceanothus americanus|
|Common Name||New Jersey tea, Mountain snowbell, Redroot|
|Plant Type||Deciduous shrub|
|Mature Size||3–4 ft. tall, 3–5 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Hardiness Zones||4–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
New Jersey Tea Care
If you're looking for an attractive blooming shrub to add to your landscape, you can look no further than New Jersey tea. The moderately-sized plant boasts delicate and petite white blooms that erupt towards the end of spring and early summer, plus lush green foliage to fill your garden throughout the rest of the season.
The plant is a great choice for use in a wildlife-friendly garden—hummingbirds like to visit the shrub frequently, as do various species of butterflies and moths. Since New Jersey tea forms large, sturdy roots, it's able to handle periods of drought well and is a good choice for soils that are sandy or rocky. Transplantation can be difficult, though, because of those roots so move it while it is young (if necessary) for the best results.
New plants may be created through planting the seed, dividing plants, or taking cuttings from an existing shrub. Seeds should be stratified (placed in cold storage) and scarified (outer seed coat broken open a little) before planting to improve germination rates.
New Jersey tea plants will thrive best if located in a spot that boasts full sunlight. However, if being grown in an area that is especially hot or dry during the summer, the plant will be able to tolerate a bit of partial shade. Ultimately, you should aim to plant your New Jersey tea somewhere where it will get at least six to eight hours of sunlight daily.
For best results, plant your New Jersey tea in a soil mixture that is sandy, loamy, and well-draining. An acidic pH level is also preferred by the plant. That said, New Jersey tea is fairly adaptable to a variety of soil conditions—the most important factor you should be sure to maintain when it comes to your planting location is optimal drainage. The plant does not tolerate wet feet and is very susceptible to root rot.
Water your New Jersey tea plant consistently as it's getting established—at least once a week, if not more in especially hot or dry environments. Because of the plant's deep taproots, it will become drought-tolerant once established.
Temperature and Humidity
As long as it's planted in the proper USDA hardiness zones, New Jersey tea plants do not have any additional temperature and humidity requirements. They are heat and drought tolerant, and can withstand temperatures below freezing, though they will certainly cease to bloom.
For best results, fertilize your New Jersey tea plant for at least the first few years as it's getting established in your landscape. Do so in the beginning of the fall, using a well-balanced, slow-release blend. Once the plant is established, it should no longer need fertilization, though you can continue to feed it if you notice it is struggling to make blooms.
Pruning New Jersey Tea
This shrub tends to form suckers as it grows and becomes established, so plan on pruning them away early if you do not want the plant to spread. However, the addition of suckers can actually be a useful feature if you are trying to quickly populate a wildlife or native garden. Other than that, your New Jersey tea plant should not need much other pruning, beyond removing any leaves or parts of the plant that look dying or diseased. If you want to do a little trimming, do so at the end of winter before the blossoming starts.
Common Pests & Diseases
New Jersey tea plants may struggle with a variety of pest issues, such as aphids, caterpillars, lacebugs, leafhoppers, mealybugs, root-maggot flies, and scale. To address these problems, consider treating your plant with a horticultural oil like neem oil. Insecticides are also an option but should be considered only as a last resort because they can damage other nearby plants.
Fungal diseases like leaf spot, powdery mildew, and verticillium wilt can also become an issue with this plant. To avoid drumming up these problems, be sure to spread the plants far enough away from each other to ensure good air circulation and water them at the base to avoid introducing excess moisture to the dense foliage.