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How to Grow China Doll — Radermachera

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Radermachera  is a genus of subtropical shrubs and trees that bear attractive glossy, dark green leaves that are light and wispy. One species, Radermachera sinica, is often sold as a small houseplant though it can grow to 9 feet (3m) tall indoors. Outdoors in its native tropical China, Radermachera can grow to 90 feet (30m) talll

Radermachera requires plenty of light and moisture in order to thrive. As with most houseplants, wilted leaves indicate either lack of water or overwatering. Radermachera requires indirect sunlight indoors. Outdoors it should be planted in rich, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade and protected from drying winds and frost. It cannot tolerate frost.

In Mediterranean regions and tropical and subtropical regions, Radermachera can be grown as a patio plant. There are dwarf variations of Radermachera sinica often referred to as the Asian Bell Tree.

Get to know Radermachera  

  • Plant type:  Subtropical evergreen shrub or tree
  • Growing zones and range:  Zones 10-11
  • Hardiness:  Tender
  • Temperature: 
  • Height and width: 5 to 9 feet (1.5-3m) tall and wide indoors, up to 90 feet (30m) tall and half as wide in subtropical and tropical regions.  
  • Foliage: Glossy green leaves are lobed, about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide.
  • Flowers: White, trumpet like flowers
  • Uses:  Houseplant, specimen in tropical regions
  • Common name:  China doll, serpent tree, emerald tree
  • Botanical name:  Radermachera
  • Family name:  Bignoniaceae
  • Origin:  Mountains of southern China and Taiwan
China doll plant, Radermahera sinica
China doll plant, Radermahera sinica

Where to plant Radermachera  

  • Light outdoors: Grow Radermachera in full sun in subtropical or tropical regions.
  • Light indoors: Radermachera grows best in direct light. 
  • Soil outdoor: Grow Radermachera in humus-rich, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil.
  • Soil indoors; Plant Radermachera in a an all-purpose potting mix or peat-based soilless mix. 

When to plant Radermachera  

  • Set container-grown Radermachera outdoors any time of the year in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Planting and spacing Radermachera  

  • Space  Radermachera 30 feet apart outdoors.

How to water and feed Radermachera  

  • Water: Allow the potting medium to dry moderately between thorough watering. If the soil dries, leaves may wither and drop. 
  • Feeding: Fertilize Radermacera once a month during spring and summer with a liquid all-purpose fertilizer. 

Radermachera care  

  • Outdoors Radermachera must be protected from drying winds.
  • Repot Radermachera in an all-purpose soil mix.

Growing Radermachera as a houseplant

  • Radermachera does bet in direct light, average room temperature, and medium humidity.
  • Radermachera can tolerate fluctuations in temperature.
  • The soil should be kept evenly moist. If the soil dries, the leave may wither and drop.
  • Fertilize Radermachera regularly in spring and summer.

Radermachera pests and diseases  

  • Radermachera is susceptible to damage from aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale insects and whiteflies. 

Radermachera propagation  

  • Propagate Radermachera by division or from offsets and repot in a peat-based soilless mix
  • Radermachera can be difficult to propagate. 

Radermachera varieties to grow  

  • Radermachera excelsa, slender lady palm. Shiny bright green fronds divided into five to eight leaves up to 9 inches long and 2 inches wide. 
  • R. sinica, China doll. Grows to 4 feet tall; leafstalks are long and bear glossy deep green leaves with light green undersides; leaves are lobed, about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide.  

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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