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Care for a China Doll Plant

By M.H. Dyer ; Updated September 21, 2017

The China doll plant (Radermachera sinica), also known as "Serpent Tree," or "Emerald Tree," is a compact, bushy, tree-like houseplant adorned with delicate, glossy leaves. The China doll plant lives up to its name, and can be fragile and a bit fussy, but as long as you're willing to give the plant a bit of extra tender loving care, it will continue to grace your home with its lush greenness for many years.

Place the China doll plant where it will be exposed to at least four to six hours of bright light each day, but avoid placing the container directly in a sunny window. If necessary, place the China doll plant under a grow light to supplement available light.

Keep the potting soil evenly moist, then water until the soil is just moist. The China doll plant will often drop its leaves if the soil is allowed to dry out between waterings. Water the China doll plant with warm water. Never allow the China doll's container to stand in water

Maintain warm room temperatures. China doll will do best in daytime temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. During the night, don't allow the temperature to drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid placing the China doll plant in drafty areas.

Feed the China doll plant once each month, using a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. However, fertilizer should be withheld for four months after re-potting the China doll plant.

Re-pot the China doll plant only when it's absolutely necessary, as the plant doesn't like to be disturbed, and will do better if it's slightly root-bound. China doll will often lose its leaves after re-potting. Use a container with good drainage in the bottom and a potting mix that is well-aerated, and drains well. To check the quality of potting mix, squeeze a handful of the mixture. If it packs tightly, add a handful of peat moss or perlite to loosen it and improve drainage.


Things You Will Need

  • Grow light
  • Container with drainage hole
  • Commercial potting mix
  • Peat moss or perlite


  • If the China doll plant drops its leaves, cut the stems down to half their length. Water sparingly, because the plant will be more prone to root rot when it's missing its leaves.

About the Author


M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.