How to Grow and Care for China Doll Plant Indoors

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

 The Spruce / Cori Sears

China doll plants are broadleaf evergreens that have a moderately fast growth rate indoors. These plants have small, glossy green leaves and an upward growth habit that can reach 4 to 6 tall at maturity. China doll plants do best when grown in full sun or bright, indirect light along with moist, well-drained soil. Native to the subtropical mountainous regions of Asia, China doll plants have a feathery, eye-catching appearance that can bring a pop of greenery to any corner of the home when grown indoors.

Common Name China doll plant, serpent tree, emerald tree
Botanical Name Radermachera sinica
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen

Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a China Doll Plant

Can You Grow China Doll Plant Inside?

When growing inside, the China doll plant can be started and grown all year long. China doll plants need specific growing conditions to thrive indoors and can be fussy if these requirements are not met (specifically when it comes to light and soil). Place your China doll plant near a window with bright, indirect light and provide it with plenty of water and humidity. These plants do not react well to frequent changes in their growing conditions; leaf drop commonly occurs if their conditions are not right or change too quickly.

How to Grow China Doll Plant Indoors


China doll plants require lots of medium to bright indirect light in order to thrive indoors. Choose a spot near an east- or west-facing window with at least four to five hours of sun exposure, but make sure to protect your plant from any direct harsh rays. This can burn the plant's delicate leaves and cause leaf drop. Rotate the plant every few weeks or so to encourage even leaf growth on every side and prevent burnt leaves.

Artificial Light

China doll plants need consistent sunlight when grown indoors. If your home does not have enough natural light to support its growth, you can supplements this with artificial grow light to help it thrive. Opt for an LED grow light with a combination of red and blue light to support growth of both foliage and flowers. About 12 hours under the grow light is equivalent to six hours in the sun, so supplement plants near low-light windows with at least eight hours of artificial light. Plants with no natural light will require 12 or more hours of artificial light per day.

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 and 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 bathroom. You can also mist the plant daily or place the plant near a humidifier.

If your China doll plant is placed near a drafty window or heating and cooling vents, it should be moved to another location during the hottest and coldest months of the year to minimize loss of humidity or exposure to low temperatures.


Regular watering is vital to growing a happy, healthy China doll plant. They should be watered once the top inch of soil is dry, but the ideal frequency can vary depending on the season and environment in your home. Watering at the soil line is best to help the roots absorb more moisture, but these humidity-loving plants can also handle water on their leaves.

Care should 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 drainage 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.


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. Follow the instructions for your specific fertilizer to determine the proper amount based on your plant's size. Once the plant's growth has slowed for the year, you can decrease your feeding cadence to once every other month.

Pruning and Maintenance

Regular pruning is the main form of upkeep for the China doll plant and should be done 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 grown a bit leggy, misshapen, or died off.

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

Container and Size

China doll plants grow best when they're a bit root-bound, so choose a pot for young plants that is similar in size to its nursery container. Aim for containers with a similar depth and width, not requiring the plant's roots to grow far down into the soil to reach the bottom. These plants are susceptible to root rot and will do best in a terra-cotta pot that allows moisture to escape through the walls. Always choose a pot with drainage holes to prevent excess water from sitting around the roots (and keep waterings frequent enough to maintain moist soil).

Potting Soil and Drainage

Plant your China doll plant in a moist but well-draining soil mix with a neutral to acidic pH. 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.

Potting and Repotting China Doll Plant

Less is more when it comes to repotting China doll plants. 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 1 to 2 inches when you do so. As an alternative to repotting, you can consider root pruning, which is also known to help control the size of your China doll plant.

Moving China Doll Plant Outdoors for the Summer

China doll plants can be moved outside for the summer, but a quick change in temperatures and growing conditions may cause leaf drop until it recovers. Move the plant outside once temperatures have consistently reached at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit.


When growing outdoors after living inside, your China doll plant can handle daytime and nighttime temperatures above 65 degrees at first. Start with a sheltered location in dappled sunlight. Over a few weeks, slowly move the plant to a sunnier location with up to five hours of sunlight per day. If your China doll plant's leaves begin to dry out or burn, move it back to a shadier location. Increase the plant's watering schedule as it receives more sun, but cut back on watering when it rains and the soil is still moist.

When to Bring China Doll Plant Back Inside

After growing outside for the summer as the weather gradually cools, your China doll plant will be able to withstand the temperatures of USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12. As soon as temperatures begin to dip closer to 30 or 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the fall, it's time to bring the plant back inside. Because China doll plants are susceptible to pests like scale, mealybugs, and spider mites, it's important to debug your plant with neem oil before bringing it back indoors.

  • Is it easy to propagate China doll plant?

    Propagating China doll plants isn't impossible, but it does take more time and care than some other varietals. Take green stem cuttings that haven't matured to woody growth, then place them in moist soil with a covering of plastic wrap to retain humidity. Keep the soil moist at all times and look for new roots within three to four weeks.

  • What plant pests are common to China doll plant?

    China doll plants can be susceptible to plants like scale, mealybugs, and spider mites (especially when growing close to other plants). These pests can be treated with natural insecticides like neem oil.