It takes around five years for a tea bush to grow properly before producing crops. During these formative years, it is extremely critical to take care of the tea bushes by suppressing the growth of weeds, protecting the soil from erosion and pruning regularly to develop a robust low-standing structure that helps in forming its roots. Pruning also helps in developing wide plucking surface that produces abundant buds for the pluckers. Without pruning, a tea can reach a height of 15-16 ft; however, for the ease of harvesting along with the benefits of pruning, the tea bushes are usually kept at the height of 3-4 ft.
Pruning is one of the critical maintenance procedures for the tea bushes in order to stimulate their growth and boost their strength. Light pruning is typically performed every year after the harvesting cycle– this type of pruning is called pruning for production. Pruning for refrigeration is a more extensive pruning and is carried out starting from 12-14 inches from the ground level. This is typically done once every 5 to 6 years to rejuvenate the maintenance foliage and the yield. A “rare” type of pruning is called pruning in the green, which is typically done when tea bushes are damaged by hailstorms or frost. My last visit to Darjeeling was towards the end of the harvesting season (around end November). I saw that almost 60-70% of the workers were involved in pruning their tea garden to make the tea bushes ready for the next “first flush” harvesting season in March.