China doll plant care

Can You Grow China Doll Plants Outside: Care Of Outdoor China Doll Plants

More often known as emerald tree or serpent tree, china doll (Radermachera sinica) is a delicate-looking plant that hales from the warm climates of southern and eastern Asia. China doll plants in gardens generally reach heights of 25 to 30 feet, although the tree can reach much greater heights in its natural environment. Indoors, china doll plants remain shrubby, usually topping out at 4 to 6 feet. Read on for information about growing and caring for china doll plants in the garden.

Can You Grow China Doll Plants Outside?

Growing china doll plants in gardens is feasible only in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. However, china doll has become a popular houseplant, valued for its glossy, divided leaves.

How to Grow China Doll Plants in Gardens

China doll plants in the garden generally prefer full sun but benefit from partial shade in hot, sunny climates. The best location is one with moist, rich, well-drained soil, often near a wall or fence where the plant is protected from strong winds. China doll plants will not tolerate frost.

Care of outdoor china doll plants includes watering. Water outdoor china doll plant regularly so the soil never becomes completely dry. As a general rule, an inch of water per week via watering or rainfall is sufficient – or when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil are dry. A 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch keeps the roots cool and moist.

Apply a balanced, timed-released fertilizer every three months from spring through autumn.

Caring for China Doll Plants Indoors

Grow china doll plants indoors outside of their hardiness zone in a container filled with a soil-based potting mix. Place the plant where it receives several hours of bright, indirect light per day, but avoid direct, intense sunlight.

Water as needed to keep the soil consistently moist, but never soaking wet. China doll prefers normally warm room temperatures between 70 and 75 F. (21-24 C.) during the day, with nighttime temps about 10 degrees cooler.

Apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once or twice a month during the growing season.

China Doll Plant (Radermachera sinica)

A China Doll Plant is a very fast growing plant with lacy-looking, glossy, green foliage that is native to the subtropical mountain regions of southern China and Taiwan. China Doll Plants appear very compact and sturdy when you first buy them because of the growth regulators given to them by growers. These growth regulators make normal sized leaves grow on short stems. As this regulator in the soil is used up, a China Doll Plant starts growing in all directions just like the outdoor plant it really is. Instead of a dense plant with lots of leaves, a China Doll Plant soon becomes open and feathery. A China Doll Plant, with its soft delicate leaves, makes a beautiful houseplant if placed in very bright light and frequently pinched back.

LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: A China Doll Plant requires very bright light.

CARE INSTRUCTIONS WATER: China Doll Plants want to be kept on the dry side. Allow the top 50% of the soil to dry out before watering a China Doll Plant. The foliage may even turn a pale green when a China Doll Plant needs water. Water around the entire soil surface so water reaches all of the roots of the China Doll Plant.

FERTILIZER: Feed a China Doll Plant monthly in the spring and summer when it is actively growing and every other month in the fall and winter with a balanced fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength.

TEMPERATURE: A China Doll Plant does well in temperatures between 65-75 degrees. Keep China Doll Plants away from drafts and cold windowsills or the leaves fall off.

HUMIDITY: China Doll Plants grow well in basic household humidity.

FLOWERING: A China Doll Plant gets flowers when grown as an outdoor plant, but not when grown indoors.

PESTS: Spider mites, Aphids, and Mealy Bugs are attracted to China Doll Plants. Because of the many leaves a China Doll plant has, it is difficult to get rid of houseplant pests. Check your China Doll Plant every week as a precaution.

DISEASES: China Doll Plants are prone to fungal infections that can cause the houseplant disease called Leaf Spot. Providing good air circulation around a China Doll Plant and keeping the leaves dry helps prevent Leaf Spot Disease.

SOIL: Use a rich well-aerated soil that drains quickly for a China Doll Plant. Add sand or perlite to loosen the soil if necessary.

China Doll Plant

Botanical Name: Radermachera sinica

China Doll plant is fairly new as a house plant. Introduced to garden centers in the 1980s, it quickly became popular because of its tolerance to the warm, dry air of heated homes.

It’s still in favor — and it’s easy to see why. Lush, emerald-green canopy of leaves cover this tropical beauty year-round. If you’re adding one to your collection (and you should) look for plants with stems that are covered with leaves from top to bottom. Skip a leggy plant — a sure sign of neglect. Don’t be afraid to buy a small plant, this one grows fast.

A small, evergreen shrub, it has long, bipinnate leaves with glossy, deeply veined leaflets that are about 2 in (5 cm) long. Young plants are compact with branching, woody stems. Fast-growing, this plant will quickly become leggy if not pruned back.

Pruning china doll will keep the plant compact and beautiful. Cut off as much as you need to in spring and summer.

Pruning tip: Always prune above a leaf node (the place where a leaf is attached to the main stem). Use sharp pruning shears to avoid tearing the woody stems. Also, pinch off growing tips regularly to encourage the stems to branch out.

In its native habitat of subtropical Southeast Asia, mature plants will produce fragrant, yellow bell-shaped flowers. But plants grown indoors rarely flower.

The keys to success with this China Doll house plant are plenty of bright, indirect light and consistently moist soil. Yellowing leaves usually mean it has been overwatered.

Repot in spring, only when its roots have filled the pot. Use a container with drainage holes to prevent soggy soil. If you want to cover up a plain nursery pot, you can slip it into a cachepot — a decorative container without drainage holes. I put pebbles in the bottom of my cachepots to keep the pot above the drainage water.

China Doll Plant Care Tips

Origin: China and Taiwan

Height: Up to 4 ft (1.2 m) indoors

Light: Bright, indirect sunlight

Water: Keep soil evenly moist year-round. Don’t allow the soil to become soggy — or dry out. Either condition will cause the China Doll plant to drop its leaves. Yellow leaves are a symptom of overwatering.

Humidity: Try to maintain 40-50% relative humidity around your plant. Mist your plant to increase humidity, or use a humidity tray.

Temperature: Average room temperatures 65-75°F/18-24°C. It will tolerate a minimum of 50°F/10°C.

Soil: Peat moss based mix, such as African violet potting mix.

Fertilizer: Feed every 2 weeks spring through fall with balanced water-soluble fertilizer diluted by half.

Propagation: Take 4 in (10 cm) stem tip cuttings in spring or summer. Cut off lower leaves from the stem; use sharp pruners to cut them cleanly just above a leaf node (the place where a leaf is attached to the stem). For best results, dip the cut stem tip in rooting hormone powder before planting. Insert the cutting into moist potting medium.

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China Doll

Grow China doll in a medium to bright spot. The brighter the light, the faster this houseplant will grow. If it’s grown in a spot that’s a little too dim, the new growth may be lanky and look stretched. If this happens, give your China doll a haircut to encourage more bushy growth and move it to a brighter spot.
Water China doll enough to keep the soil moist, but never soggy and saturated. This may be once a week or so, depending on how large your houseplant is, how large the China doll’s pot is, how much light it receives, and the temperature.
Like most houseplants, China doll appreciates abundant humidity levels and can sulk a bit if the air is too dry, especially in winter months. If your space has dry air, you can increase relative humidity around your plant by grouping it with other houseplants (they naturally release a little moisture into the air as they breathe, so a cluster of houseplants can act as little humidifiers for one another) or by growing your plant over a large, shallow tray filled with water and rocks, sand, or pebbles. Just be sure the bottom of the pot stays above the water so that the China doll doesn’t drown.
China doll benefits from being fertilized a couple of times a year (in spring and summer when they’re actively growing). You can fertilize China doll houseplants more frequently if you wish — doing so will make it grow faster.
China doll is not recommended for human or animal consumption.

The china doll plant is a fairly recent houseplant, having only been introduced since the early 1980s. It’s a fairly compact plant that has became very popular due to how tolerant it is of the warm, low-humidity air of most modern homes.

It has medium to dark green glossy leaves that almost look a bit oily. The leaves are divided into separate leaflets and are generally thin and delicate looking. The blooms are white (but it rarely blooms in the home).

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about planting, caring for, and preventing pests and diseases for the wonderful china doll plant.​

Overview of the China Doll Plant

  • Common Name: China Doll, Emerald Tree, Serpent Tree
  • Latin Name: Radermachera Sinica
  • Family: Bignoniaceae
  • Plant Type: Tree
  • Origin: China
  • Blooming Time: Mid Spring
  • Humidity: Moderate
  • Temperature: 50-75°F (10-24°C)
  • Height: 30′
  • Color: Green
  • Insects and Diseases: Mealy bugs, spider mites, aphids


China Dolls prefer to be somewhat root bound, so be really careful about re-potting them. It’s a plant that doesn’t like change very much either and re-potting it, moving it to another area or drafts may cause major leaf loss.

If you do notice your plant losing most or all of it’s leaves, don’t despair! You can save it by trimming all of the stems down to around 1/2 their length and watering less. When the plant experiences a massive loss of leaves it’s very susceptible to root rot.​

Caring For and Cultivating

Radermachera sinica’s are pretty hardy plants so long as you put them in the right environment to start with. As mentioned above, if you fiddle around with them and move them a lot, they will respond by promptly dying…so avoid this!


For best growth, give your china doll plant a lot of bright (but indirect) sun. It needs at least 4-5 hours of sun per day, even indoors. If you don’t have a spot in your house that gets that much light, you should consider purchasing indoor grow lights to supplement.


When watering, be careful. Too little or too much can wreak havoc on your china doll plant. The soil should be kept moist, but the roots shouldn’t be allowed to sit in water. Water only when the top inch of the soil is dry to the touch.

Add rocks, perlite, sand, or another type of growing medium to the bottom of your pot if the soil doesn’t drain well.​

If your plant develops brittle leaves that turn yellow, it not getting enough water. Too much water is indicated by black colored tips.

When new foliage is developing, watering can be slightly increased and decreased again once the plant has become dormant.​


These compact trees like a rich soil that drains well. General purpose potting soil can be used, add sand or perlite if extra drainage is needed.

The china doll plant should be fed at least twice a month while it’s growth period is active. Use a standard 10-10-10- liquid fertilizer that’s diluted by 50%. These plants require less fertilization during inactive growth and feeding times should be decreased.

A slow release fertilizer can be used twice yearly. The plant shouldn’t be fertilized for four months after being re-potted.​


Example of a mature radermachera sinica.

While it is difficult to propagate a china doll plant, it isn’t impossible with a little extra care. Cuttings can be taken from the stems, but the cuttings have to be green and not wood like.

The cuttings can be planted in small pots that you have filled with some moist compost or potting soil. Covering the pots with plastic will help retain the moisture level. China doll’s need high humidity to take root.

The cuttings should be placed in a location with bright, indirect light. Keep the soil evenly moist during this time and within 3-4 weeks the roots should begin to grow.

Pests and Diseases

China doll plants don’t have too many problems with pests or diseases, but there are a few pesky pests that affect almost all houseplants, china doll included.​



When it comes to scale insects, the best approach to prevention and treatment is a systemic insecticide. This is an insecticide that gets into the plant’s system, so any plant material that scales feed on becomes toxic to them.

You’ll know if your plant is suffering from scales if there are a lot of little round oval-shaped bugs on the underside of your leaves near the stems.​

Various Flies

There are a few fly species that like to attack the China Doll, including fungus gnats. The general treatment for fly infestations is a lower-humidity environment and treatment with beneficial nematodes. Also see my guide on treating and preventing fungus gnats.


Most of the diseases affecting the china doll plant fall under the fungus category, meaning the treatment is a lower-humidity environment. If the disease is particularly bad, you’ll need to get an organic fungicide to clear it out.​


Q. The leaves of my china doll plant are dry and falling off of the stem. Does it need more water?

A. The most likely problem is that you didn’t water enough and that part of your china doll plant has died. You won’t be able to salvage that section, so cut it off and new growth will come back.

Q. What are these little white balls on my plant? They kind of look like little cotton balls.

A. It’s almost guaranteed that they are mealy bugs, one of the most annoying indoor garden pests. If you’re lucky enough to have only a few, you can remove them with rubbing alcohol and cotton balls. For a larger infestation, use an approved insecticide and spray your entire plant.

Q. There are a lot of leaves at the top of my plant, but not many below. What’s happening?

A. You’ll want to heavily prune back your china doll plant and then move it to a very sunny location. Pruning at least 2/3 of the plant back is a good rule of thumb here.

Q. The leaves are falling off on my china doll plant! What’s happening!

A. Whenever you change the amount of light, water, or the temperature in the room, your china doll plants can respond by shedding leaves. It should stabilize once it gets used to the new environment.

Q. I’m watering correctly, but my entire plant is drooping.

A. You may think that you’re watering correctly, but if you have this problem on your china doll plant chances are good that the roots of the plant are rotted out. Let the soil dry out completely and cut the plant back a bit. However, it’s hard to come back from rotted roots – you may need to get a new plant.

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Kevin Espiritu
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The China Doll plant, otherwise known as an emerald tree, is a rather tall plant when grown outside. But if grown inside, it will only grow to 4 to 6 feet and look more like a shrub. When grownindoors it enjoys several hours of indirect sunlight, but direct light will kil it. They enjoy being fairly warm, and moist. Fertilize once or twice a month for best results.

Key Takeaways:

  • More often known as emerald tree or serpent tree, china doll (Radermachera sinica) is a delicate-looking plant that hales from the warm climates of southern and eastern Asia.
  • Growing china doll plants in gardens is feasible only in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11.
  • China doll plants in the garden generally prefer full sun but benefit from partial shade in hot, sunny climates.

“Growing china doll plants in gardens is feasible only in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. Read more at Gardening Know How: Can You Grow China Doll Plants Outside: Care Of Outdoor China Doll Plants”

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