At the time of planting, adequate manuring with phosphatic fertilizer and organic manure is essential for better tilth of the soil in the pit and root growth of the young plants.The phospahatic fertilizer (Rock phosphate and Single super phosphate) is mixed with the soil that is excavated from the planting pit and returned to the pit at the time of planting. Dry well-rotten cattle manure or well-made compost can be mixed with phosphate as a planting mixture. Vermicompost may also be applied in place of cattle manure. Besides providing nutrition to the young plants, cattle manure or the compost keeps the soil of the planting pit in good physical condition. It is better not to apply inorganic fertilizers until the plants have been established well in the field. In N.E.India where the organic matter content of the soil is generally low 4-5 kg well decomposed cattle manure along with 30 gm rock phospahate and 30 gm single superphosphate are applied per pit at the time of planting.
Levelling: As soon as planting is completed, the entire field should be leveled by cheeling. During planting the surface becomes undulating and localized stagnation of water may occur.
Mulching: After leveling, the field should be mulched heavily with any green leafy materials. Mulching simply means covering the surface of the soil with any available plant material viz., straw, cut grass, tree leaves, ferns, water hyacinth, rice hulls, leaves from green-manure crops etc. Whatever plant material is used should be harvested before it has produced seeds. If the mulch contains seeds, they may sprout after the mulch is placed in the tea field, producing weeds that will have to be controlled. Mulching is very essential in drought prone areas. Mulching with materials like Guatemala grass or water hyacinth at a thickness of about 15 cm is most suitable. Mulching should be done by when the soil is moist.
The benefits of mulching are:
- Reduces soil erosion (by protecting the soil from the impact of raindrops)
- Increases soil moisture (by protecting the soil from sun and wind, and therefore reducing evaporation from the soil).
- Can increase problems with root diseases (especially if the mulch is leaves from green-manure plants or other leaves rich in nitrogen)
- Helps in controlling the weeds
- Improves soil structure and fertility (by adding organic matter to the soil). If mulch leaves are collected from forests, it can damage forests and natural areas.
- May help control some diseases of tea leaves (by preventing soil from splashing onto leaves during rains).
- Increases absorption of phosphorous fertilizer by tea plants (probably because mulching increases the production of feeder roots in the surface layer of the soil).
- It is easy and cheap.
- It adds organic matter to the soil
- It proliferates the feeder root growth
Deepening of field drains: If the field drains were dug shallow before planting tea, the drains are deepened and the excavated soils are uniformly spread. The excavated soil should not be heaped in one place which hinders the water movement causing localized waterlogging.
Infilling: Some plants may die in the field for a variety of reasons such as poor drainage, pests and diseases, debility, lightning etc. Infilling is the replacement of dead plants by new ones. Vacancies encourage growth of weeds and reduce the production. Infilling of vacancies is better done in the first two years when the young plants have not spread much so that the infill can grow freely and have better chance for survival.After planting of infill, the ground should be mulched with any suitable vegetable materials in order to reduce the loss of soil moisture and add organic matter to the soil.
Strong plants with good root system of appropriate clones or clonal seed varieties can be used for infilling in order to compete against the established plants around. It is not only necessary to use the clone or seed variety that is already planted in the field. While infilling, a large pit should be dug to ensure the presence of no live roots of established tea, is close to the new plant. Preferably, two plants per vacancy in a large pit should be planted. The side branches of the neighboring plants may be trimmed and the infill should be tipped a little higher in the first two years or so. Pegs can be put around the infill which would protect plants from trampling.