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.
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 scales, 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.
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.