How to Grow China Doll Plants Indoors

A China Doll Plant sits in a white pot on a white desk next to an iMac desktop.

 The Spruce / Cori Sears

With their glossy emerald leaves and petite shape, China doll plants make for an attractive addition to any indoor home garden collection. Native to the subtropical mountainous areas of Asia, China doll plants are evergreen trees that are a part of the Bignoniaceae family. When cared for indoors, they are moderately fast growers and can reach heights between 4 and 6 feet at maturity.

When growing indoors, the China doll plant can be started and grown all year long. It's a bit picky about its growing conditions (specifically when it comes to light and soil), but if you maintain them, you'll be rewarded with a feathery, eye-catching plant perfect for bringing a pop of greenery to any corner of your home.

Botanical Name Radermachera sinica
Common Name China doll plant, serpent tree, emerald tree
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen
Mature Size 4–6 ft. tall (indoors), 1–3 ft. wide (indoors)
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Summer (rarely blooms indoors)
Flower Color White, yellow
Hardiness Zones 10–12 (USDA) when outdoors
Native Area Asia
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Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a China Doll Plant

China Doll Plant Care

China doll plants require specific growing conditions in order to thrive indoors and can be fussy if these conditions are not met. The most important thing to remember when growing a China doll plant is that they require lots of light and moisture and do not react well to frequent changes in their growing conditions. Leaf drop commonly occurs in China doll plants if their growing conditions are not right or change too quickly.

A close up of the leaves of a China Doll Plant.
 The Spruce / Cori Sears

Light

China doll plants require lots of medium to bright indirect light in order to thrive indoors. Choose a spot nearby a window, but make sure to protect your plant from any direct harsh rays, as they can burn the plant's delicate leaves and cause leaf drop. If you do not have enough natural light in your home to support a China doll plant (it will need at least four to five hours a day, consistently), you can supplement with an artificial grow light to help it thrive.

Soil

Plant your China doll plant in a moist but well-draining soil mix. Commercially available potting mixtures are typically adequate—if you notice that the soil is not draining well, perlite or sand can be mixed in to help improve drainage.

Water

Regular watering is vital to achieving a happy, healthy China doll plant. They should be watered once the top inch of soil is dry, the frequency of which will vary depending on the season and environment in your home. At the same time, care needs to be taken not to overwater China doll plants, as they cannot handle "wet feet" and will easily develop root rot if left sitting in water. To avoid this issue, choose a pot with ample drained holes at its base. If you notice the leaves of the plant turning yellow or crunchy, that's a good indication that it's not receiving enough water. Likewise, black tips on the plant's leaves can signal it's being overwatered.

Temperature and Humidity

Due to their subtropical origins, China doll plants appreciate warm and humid conditions in your home. They should be kept in temperatures between 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and, while they can survive in the typical dry household conditions, they will thrive when given extra humidity. To increase the humidity around your China doll plant, keep it in a room in your home that typically boasts more humidity, like the kitchen or bathroom. You can also mist the plant daily or place the plant near a humidifier.

Fertilizer

During its growing period (spring and summer), your China doll plant should be fed monthly with a balanced liquid fertilizer that has been diluted by half. Once the plant's growth has slowed for the year, you can decrease your feeding cadence to once every other month.

Pruning China Doll Plants

Regular pruning is the main form of upkeep for the China doll plant and should be done so regularly in order to maintain an attractive and successful plant. It's not picky about the time of year that it is pruned, so you can do so whenever you notice your China doll plant getting a little unruly. Every few months, trim back any stems that have gotten a bit leggy, those that are misshapen, or stems that appear to be dying off.

Propagating China Doll Plants

China doll plants can be propagated through stem cuttings. Propagating China doll plants isn't impossible, but it does take more time and care than some other varietals. When taking stem cuttings, ensure that they are green and not from the woody portion of the plant. The stem cuttings can then be placed directly in moist soil and covered with a sheet of plastic wrap in order to retain humidity. The soil around the cuttings should be kept evenly moist at all times. If the propagation was successful roots should begin to grow within three to four weeks.

Potting and Repotting China Doll Plants

Less is more when it comes to repotting China doll plants. They appreciate being rootbound, so frequent repotting or disturbance can lead to leaf drop and a general failure to thrive. Only repot your China doll plant when absolutely necessary, and be sure to increase its pot size by only one-to-two inches when you do so. As an alternative to repotting, you can consider root pruning, which can also be known to help control the size of your China doll plant.

Common Pests and Diseases

China doll plants aren't known to be particularly susceptible to pest or disease issues, but there are a few afflictions to look out for. Like most houseplants, your China doll plant is at risk for scale, mealybug, and spider mites, especially if it's kept near a variety of other plants. These common pests can be treated with a natural insecticide, such as neem oil. Any diseases it may experience are often fungal (like leaf spot) and can be rectified by reducing the moisture around the plant slightly.