china doll plant

How to Grow and Care for China Doll Plants (Radermachera sinica)

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One plant you should consider adding to your home is the beautiful China doll plant (Radermachera sinica). A broadleaf evergreen tree, it more than serves its purpose as a houseplant.

This plant will seldom bloom indoors, but you can start the process of growing it any time throughout the year. Plus, its attractive foliage is one reason to consider growing it, too!

The requirements for growing this houseplant are a little tricky and tedious, but as long as you perform the tasks correctly, it will blossom into something extravagant. So, let’s get you started on this task, shall we?

Plant Facts

Scientific nameRadermachera sinica
Common namesChina doll plant, serpent tree, emerald tree
Plant TypeBroadleaf evergreen houseplant
Height and Width4–6 ft. tall (indoors), 1–3 ft. wide (indoors)
Flower colorsWhite, yellow
Foliage colorBlue/green
Sun ExposureFull sun, partial shade
Soil Type & pHMoist but well-drained; neutral to acidic
Special featuresGreat for containers

How to Grow the China Doll Plant

The first step you’ll want to take with growing your Radermachera sinica plant is by putting it in a container and placing it indoors. Although these houseplants can be grown outside in a few places, they are rarely grown outside of their hardiness zone (USDA zones 10-12). Give it the protection from the cold it needs to survive!


Even though the steps for propagating your houseplant can be tedious and time-consuming, it is still doable. Listed below are the steps you need to take to complete this process correctly:

Start by cutting two inches of new growth (choose that which is green wood ONLY) towards the tip of the plant. Leave the leaves attached to the tip and remove the lower leaves from the cutting. Dip the bottom half of the cutting in a rooting hormone powder, then tap off any excess that is left. Stick the cutting in a moist potting mix, then cover it with a plastic bag to trap as much humidity as you can. 

After you’ve completed these steps, you’ll want to keep the bagged cutting in a place that is bright and warm. Tug it every few weeks to see if it’s growing or not. Once you feel some resistance, that’s a sign that roots have formed. When the cutting roots start to grow, pinch the tip for branching.

You can also grow this plant from seed or purchase a starter plant at the nursery if that’s more convenient. 


The soil that is needed for this kind of plant has to be rich and drains well. You can use any type of general-purpose potting soil but if the drainage isn’t adequate, just add some perlite or sand to help it loosen up.

If you use a potting mix that is more on the sterile side, keep in mind that it should be fed approximately twice a month to ensure productive and consistent growth.


Pruning your plants is another activity that will be a little dreary and tiresome, but it can be done quickly so long as you follow the steps correctly. 

To prune, start by trimming a few of the smaller side branches. Do this where they attach to a main lateral stem and be sure not to leave a stub when you make your cuts. To avoid this, position your pruning shears so that the sharp side of the cutting blade is positioned flush to the stem that is going to remain on the plant. 

When you prune this way it will lead to inevitable new growth in the stems, which is exactly what you want in order for it to grow strong and vigorous. 

Repotting and Transplanting

In order for your houseplants to grow without fail, they must be adjusted to the consistency in the process of their growth. This means that they don’t like any unwanted changes.

For the most part, the only time you should repot your plant is if the roots have outgrown the confines of the container’s soil and are showing signs of sickness like pale leaves or lack of growth. Other than that, these plants are okay with being rootbound to some extent and don’t need to be transplanted. 

How to Care for A China Doll Plant

There are a few key china doll plant care elements that are pretty much mandatory. These will ensure proper growth for your plant: water, sunlight, temperature and humidity, fertilizer, and pests/diseases.


Water your houseplant moderately. Ideally, you should only do this when the first inch of soil is dry. If you insert your finger into the soil and it comes out dry, it’s time to water – if the soil is moist, you can hold it off for some time. Depending on the sunlight and humidity conditions in your home, you’ll usually only need to water once every few weeks or so. 


Like every other plant that exists in the world, another important element to ensure a plant’s growth is sunlight. 

A china doll tree should be placed in an area where it can receive bright and indirect sunlight, such as along a fence or a wall. 

Putting these houseplants in the proper place will guarantee a healthy and steady growth. 

Temperature and Humidity

The temperature and humidity are other contributing factors that play a role in a china doll plant receiving the proper care that it needs to grow successfully.

The temperature of the room where the china doll plant is should be anywhere between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Do NOT put it in a room that is lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As for the humidity, it should be 40% relative to the area where your plant is. 

During the wintertime, however, it’s recommended you get a humidity monitor (and perhaps consider installing a humidifier) because the air indoors can be dry. Remember, if it feels too dry inside your home for your comfort, it’s definitely too dry for your plant!


Using a fertilizer that is a standard 10-10-10- liquid fertilizer that’s diluted by 50% will do the trick. During the period of inactive growth or dormancy during the winter months, keep in mind that you don’t have to fertilize the plant as much. In some cases, you may not need to fertilize at all.

Pests and Diseases

Unfortunately, the china doll tree is not immune to attracting pests and being infected with diseases. This house plant can attract major arthropods and insect pests that tend to be common among houseplants of all kinds. Allow us to further elaborate on the pests and diseases you’ll need to watch out for.


Aphids are insects with pear-shaped bodies with various colors that range from brown to green. You’ll know that these creepy little bugs have been around your plant once you find any honeydew or mold that is sooty. They can cause your plant to be stunted or for distortion to occur in new growth, so make sure that you watch for these very carefully.’

The best way to fight off aphids from infesting your plant is by using registered materials that involve phytotoxicity. When you do this, it’s recommended that you perform tests to see which one would be safer to use.


Another way to tell if your china doll plant has been infested is by looking out for caterpillars. These are less common in plants grown solely as houseplants indoors but can still occasionally appear. Seeing caterpillars, their excrement, and any damage that they may have left behind (i.e. holes everywhere in the leaves) are very easy to detect. 

Sometimes, it might not be caterpillars that are causing damage to the plant, but it can also be snails as well. The damage can be confused by one or the other, so the only way to tell is to be on the lookout to see which specimen is doing it. 

Other common pests include fungus gnats, shoreflies, and slugs.

In general, the best way to go about preventing the china doll from getting any diseases or pests is by giving it the proper nourishment it needs for growth and looking out for any bugs that may be near it daily.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

There are not any other common varieties of this species. This beautiful and sophisticated plant is truly one of a kind!


Now that we’ve covered all of the basics and logistics of caring for this gorgeous plant, it’s time to start the process of getting it to grow.

Following these steps will give you the results you’re looking for in growing a china doll plant – you can rest assured that it will make the perfect addition to your indoor home garden collection!

*image by simonapavan/depositphotos

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