China Doll Plant: How to Grow and Care?

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Are you a gardening enthusiast who loves to grow indoor plants? Or do you love to decorate your home with exotic and unique plants for ornamental purposes? If you are either of these personalities or aspire to be one, we have a beautiful species of plant for you, the China doll plant.

The China doll plant (Radermachera Sinica), also known as the Emerald or serpent tree, is a delicate, easy-to-care plant that can be an attractive addition to any indoor house garden collection.

Native to the subtropical mountainous areas of south-east Asia, this plant was discovered in the early 1980s. Since then, the plant has become popular among expert gardeners and DIY planting enthusiasts and is still one of the most collected indoor plants.

Characteristics of The China Doll Plant

The China doll plant is a small tree-like plant known for its characteristic glossy and fern-like leaves that are oily in nature. The leaves are split up into separate leaflets and are thin and delicate-looking. Moreover, the China doll plant can’t bloom indoors, although it produces large trumpet-shaped white flowers in its natural habitat or when grown outdoors.

In general, these plants are fast growers, and in a natural environment, they grow up to a height of 25 to 30 feet.

Indoors, the China doll plant remains shrubby and has a shorter height of 4 to 6 feet. In short, the plant remains relatively compact and suits itself in indoor growing conditions such as warm and low humid air quite well.

Characteristics of the China Doll Plant

These tropical plants require moist soil and plenty of sunlight. When they receive enough sunlight or artificial lighting, the plants remain bushy and call for an occasional trim to remove the dead branches or keep them in shape. On the contrary, in low light conditions, they need more frequent pruning to control the uneven and disproportionate growth of the branches.

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How to Grow China Doll Plants?

How to Grow China Doll Plants

China Doll plants have evolved from a large tree to a smaller variety, so the growing conditions are similar to most natural indoor plants. Here are some tips on how to grow these plants indoors and outdoors.

Growing China Doll Plants Indoors

China Doll plants are pretty enchanting to look at if appropriately grown, and the whole process of growing them can be aesthetically rewarding. To grow these plants indoors, here are some factors to take into consideration.

Growing China Doll Plants Indoors

Firstly, plant the baby plant or the sapling in a container filled with a soil-based potting mix. The soil must be consistently moist but not soaking wet. To provide additional nourishment to the plant, try using a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once or twice a month during the growing period.

Next, make sure to place the plant in a bright spot to receive several hours of bright indirect sunlight each day. At the same time, avoid direct intense sunlight. Remember, these plants prefer a warm temperature of about 21 to 24 degrees Celsius during the day and 12 to 14 degrees Celsius during the nighttime.

Growing China Doll Plants Outdoors

The only issue with growing China doll plants indoors is that they can’t bloom unless grown outside. Thus, if you want flowers to bloom on the plants, consider raising them outdoors first and then shifting them indoors once the plant is fully developed.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while growing China doll plants outdoors.

China doll plants require plenty of sunlight, so it is better to plant them in a place that receives partial shade during hot and sunny climates instead of direct sunlight.

Note: Warmth is an absolute necessity, and these plants can’t survive cold temperatures.

Growing China Doll Plants Outdoors

The best location for the sustained growth of the plant is a spot with moist, rich, and well-drained soil, ideally near a wall or a fence to protect the plant from strong winds. As for the watering requirement, make sure to check regularly that the soil never becomes completely dry. An inch of water per week through watering cans or naturally through rainfall is adequate. Not to forget, only water when the top 1-2 inches of the soil is dry.

Make sure to use water-based mulch to keep the roots cool and moist. And also, use balanced water-based, non-toxic fertilizers every three months from spring through autumn.

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How to Take Care and Maintain China Doll Plants?

How to Take Care and Maintain China Doll Plants

China doll plants grow well in comparatively warmer environments throughout the year. However, they have some specific growing conditions to thrive indoors and might have some complications if these conditions are absent. Be mindful since growing a China doll plant requires ample sunlight and moisture, and they are unable to adapt quickly with frequent changes in the growing conditions.

In worst-case scenarios, there is a premature shedding of leaves in the absence of appropriate growing conditions, which might cause the plant to die soon after.


China doll plants need a lot of bright indirect light to thrive indoors and outdoors. A windowsill or any place in your home that receives indirect sunlight will help in the plant’s sustenance.


Be aware to provide shade to the plant from any direct sun rays, as it might burn the plant’s delicate leaves and cause the leaves to shed or droop.

If there is an absence of enough natural light to support a China doll plant (which it needs for at least four to five hours a day, consistently), using artificial light as an alternative to sunlight can help too.


Always plant the China doll plant in a moist but well-drained and soil-based potting mix. Finding good quality ready-made potting mixtures is a necessity, but if the soil doesn’t drain well, make sure to use perlite or sand into the mixture and mix it evenly. This nutritionally enhanced mixture helps improve drainage.

Also, gardeners must ensure using a good quantity of mulch to keep the soil moist.


Regular watering is essential for growing and caring for a healthy China doll plant. It is necessary to water them once a week and, as mentioned before when the top 1-2 inches of the soil is dry. How much water the plant will need varies depending on the season and environment around the plant.

Even so, take care not to overwater these plants, as they can’t grow in too much waterlogged soil and will cause the roots to rot if left sitting in water.


To avoid this issue, choose a pot with small and many drained holes at the base. If the plant’s leaves turn yellow and dry, this indicates that the plant isn’t receiving enough water. In the same way, black spots on the plant’s leaves also mean that the plant is being overwatered.

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Temperature and Humidity

As China doll plants originated in the subtropical regions, they require warm and humid conditions to grow. Keep these plants experiencing temperatures between 21 to 24 degrees Celsius during the day and 12 to 14 degrees Celsius at night. Also, they can survive in the typical dry household conditions, and they will thrive if the atmosphere is extra humid.

To increase the humidity around the China doll plant, place it in a comparatively more humid room, like the kitchen or bathroom. Additionally, humidity around the plant can be increased by misting (spraying microdroplets of water) the plant daily or placing the plant near a humidifier.


During the plant’s growing period in spring and summer, always feed it with a balanced water-based fertilizer that has been half-diluted every month. Once the plant’s growth slows down, reduce the fertilizer usage significantly.


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Additional Ways to Take Care of the China Doll Plant

Unlike typical plants grown in gardens or lawns, China doll plants need extra care to become more appealing and eye-catching. Here are some more ways to maintain the China doll plant.



Pruning must be done regularly on a China doll plant to maintain its health and aesthetics. Keep in mind, pruning the plant isn’t that difficult as it sounds. If it looks out of shape, feel free to do it at any time of the year.

Every few months, ensure you trim any branches or stems that have become leggy (unkempt and irregular) if the plant seems out of shape or if the stems/branches are dying off.


China doll plants perform vegetative propagation with the help of stem cuttings. It is quite possible to propagate the plants quickly, however, it takes more time than the other plant species.

While taking stem cuttings, ensure that the stems are green and not the woody portions of the plant. After that, the stem cuttings must be placed in moist soil and covered with a plastic sheet to retain humidity. Keep the soil around the cuttings moist, apply a bit of diluted fertilizer every week, and expect a successful propagation within three to four weeks.

Potting and Repotting

When the China doll plant flowers have finally bloomed, it is time to shift them indoors. However, changing pots more often ought to lead to leaf droppings and a general failure to thrive.

Keep in mind to repot your China Doll plants when necessary, and also increase the pot size by one or two inches during the process. Root pruning is also another viable option to help control the size of the China doll plant.

Protection from Pests and Diseases

Protection from Pests and Diseases

China doll plants don’t face much threat from pests or diseases, but a few pesky pests affect almost all houseplants, including these gardening beauties. Some of the possible threats might be in the form of:


Pests pose a threat to almost every plant. There are two types of pest problems every DIY gardener might face. They are described as follows.

  • Scales
    The best approach to prevention and treatment from scales is a systemic application of insecticide to reduce the invasion of these insects. This type of insecticide enters the plant’s system and makes them immune and toxic to scales, but it doesn’t harm the plants. If a scale feeds on the treated plant, anything it feeds on can kill it, thus saving the plant.

To determine if the plant is suffering from scales, look on the underside of the leaves near the stems. They might be infested with round oval-shaped bugs feeding on the plant and harming them simultaneously.

  • Various Flies
    Few fly species like the fungus gnats mainly attack the China doll plant and feed on them. To get rid of these pests, try to make the environment less humid. Beneficial nematodes (Microscopic worm-like organisms) can also help to reduce fly invasions.
  • Aphids
    Light green-colored and soft-bodied insects known as aphids are a major threat to China doll plants. Aphid infestations are mostly undetected early on, but failing to discover them can lead to mold-like growth on stems and leaves.

    To prevent these pests from destroying the plants, spraying water at high speeds can help wash off the aphids. Using a saltwater solution or ladybirds can help too.


The China doll plant is mainly affected by fungal diseases due to a more humid environment. It is better to have less humidity, when necessary, by shifting the plant to a more sunlit place. However, if the disease spread is uncontrollable, it is better to use an organic fungicide to treat the disease.

China doll plants aren’t known to be infected by pest or disease issues, but there ought to be some odd cases to keep in mind. Like most houseplants, even these get infected by scales, mealybugs, and spider mites, especially if they’re sharing a living space with other plant species.


These pests can be treated with a natural insecticide, such as neem oil or saltwater solution. Any diseases that might be fungal in nature (like leaf spot) can be rectified by slightly reducing the moisture around the plant.


To maintain the glow of the plant, and protect it from tiny pests, spray a mixture of salt and water. This mixture helps the plant to retain its radiance and also heals it from shedding and drooping instances.

Remember that China doll plants rarely bloom while indoors. Thus, attempt growing the plant outdoors, and when the plant blooms, shift it indoors.

The China doll plant is no doubt picky about its growing conditions. Nevertheless, if you can successfully maintain them, you will feel immensely rewarded for bringing up this dazzling plant and making your garden or home even more soulful.

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