How to Care for China Doll Plant

This popular, pretty houseplant deserves a spot in your collection.

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A China doll plant is grown as a houseplant for its abundant glossy-green, fernlike leaves. Adapted from its origin as a large tree, this fast-growing plant now happily tolerates indoor-growing conditions. A China doll plant rarely blooms indoors.

This native of Southeast Asia was introduced as a houseplant in the 1980s. It grows up to 4 feet tall and is valued for bringing airy greenery into homes.

China Doll Plant

BHG / Kelli Jo Emanuel

China Doll Overview

Genus Name Radermachera sinica
Common Name China Doll
Plant Type Houseplant
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 1 to 4 feet
Width 1 to 3 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Special Features Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Propagation Stem Cuttings

Where to Plant China Doll Plants

China Doll plant

BHG / Kelli Jo Emanuel

If you meet its finicky light and soil requirements, China doll is a relatively low-maintenance plant. Plant a China doll in well-draining soil and water it often. Position it in a bright, filtered-light location and avoid drafts. This plant doesn't like changing conditions. Provide a consistent environment, or the plant may start dropping its leaves.

China Doll Plant Care Tips


As an indoor plant, China doll fares best with four to five hours of full to part sun exposure a day. With too much shade, this plant quickly becomes lanky and needs constant pruning to look maintained.

Soil and Water

Somewhat temperamental about water, a China doll needs consistent moisture, but be sure to let the soil dry out slightly between waterings to avoid rot and other problems. A rich potting mix provides the right environment as long as it drains well.

Temperature and Humidity

These plants prefer a warm location between 65°F and 75°F. China doll also appreciates lots of humidity. In an extremely dry environment, increase the humidity around this plant by placing it on a saucer filled with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, the level of humidity around the plant will rise. Avoid letting the pot sit directly in the water, as constantly soggy soil can lead to root rot.


To keep a China doll plant looking healthy, give it an occasional dose of liquid houseplant fertilizer or use a slow-release fertilizer every few months. Fertilizing encourages new growth, though, so keep those pruning shears handy.


Even when grown in ideal conditions, this plant requires regular trims due to how fast it grows. The plant can be trimmed any time of year. Every few months, cut back branches that have become leggy or look damaged or dying.

Potting and Repotting China Doll

After the plant lives in the same container for an extended time, the soil may build up excess salt, which can cause leaf-tip burn. You can repot the plant with fresh soil mix or try flushing the soil with a lot of water to remove the excess salt. This simple process, called leaching, is done by placing the pot in a drip pan or the sink and running tap water through the soil until the water runs clear. It may take more than one flushing, and if so, empty the drip pan each time. Leaching is especially important when a plant has been watered with chemically softened water. If that's the case, flush the soil with rainwater or distilled water.

Pests and Problems

As with other houseplants, China doll plants attract aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. Check the plants every week and address any infestation immediately using an insecticidal soap or neem oil. Although they love humidity, the plants may experience leaf spot if they stay wet. Position them where the air circulates freely to avoid fungal infections.

How to Propagate China Doll

Although propagation can be less successful than with other types of plants, rooting a China doll cutting can result in a new plant. Cut 2 to 3 inches of new growth toward the tip of the plant (green wood only, nothing old and tough). Remove the lower leaves from your cutting, leaving just a few leaflets attached at the tip. Dip the bottom half of the cutting in a rooting hormone powder and tap off any excess. Then stick the cutting in moist potting mix and cover it with a plastic bag to trap as much humidity as possible. Keep the bagged cutting in a bright, warm spot and give it a gentle tug every few weeks to see if it is rooting. As soon as the cutting roots and begins to grow, pinch the tip to encourage branching.

China Doll plant

BHG / Kelli Jo Emanuel

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can China Doll plants grow outdoors in gardens?

    Although the vast majority of China doll plants in the U.S. are grown as houseplants, it is possible to grow China doll plants outside in USDA zones 10 and 11, where they grow much taller—up to 30 feet! In the garden, they prefer sun with partial shade in the hottest areas, frequent watering, rich well-draining soil, and regular fertilization, just like their indoor counterparts.

  • Are China doll plants safe to have around cats?

    If your feline friend nibbles on your houseplants, have no fear. China doll plants are nontoxic for cats—and for dogs and children, too.

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