In September, my dear great-aunt Rose passed away at age 100. All the plants at her funeral were the same and my aunt Karen, who made the funeral arrangements, had ordered twenty so that each of the cousins could take one home. Bets were made back and forth as to who could keep their plant alive the longest. Knowing that I am a Master Gardener, everybody was asking me what they were and how to care for them. But I had never seen this plant before!
Each plant was about a foot tall, and had glossy leaves divided into lacy leaflets. They reminded me of the feathery foliage of a Japanese maple tree or a tomato plant. Karen said that the plants were called ‘China Doll.’
Some research told me that ‘China Doll’ has replaced the old standby, Peace Lily, as the new “in” plant for funerals.
I also learned that ‘China Doll’ needs about five hours of bright, indirect light each day. It should be placed in a south window, but not so close that the sun shines directly upon it. If the plant isn’t getting enough light, it will become leggy. If that happens, stems should be cut back and a way found to provide more light.
‘China Doll’ prefers temperatures of 65° – 75° F and dislikes cold drafts.
Plants should be watered when the soil is dry to the touch. Soil should be well-drained and any water in the saucer an hour after watering should be dumped, as root rot may develop if they are left sitting in water.
‘China Doll’ should not be repotted often. They actually grow best when they are root-bound! That said, they can’t survive root-bound forever, so repot every couple years in spring to a slightly larger pot, with fresh, well-drained potting soil.
‘China Doll’ doesn’t react well to change, so when it comes home from the nursery, it might drop many of its leaves. Don’t despair – leaves will grow back once it adjusts to your home conditions. At this point, you might trim the stems back by half to shape the plant. Be extra careful not to overwater the plant when the leaves have dropped, since they won’t be transpiring water.
Do not fertilize the plant at all until it has acclimated its new home. After that, feed monthly in spring and summer and every other month in fall and winter with a half-strength houseplant fertilizer.
‘China Doll’ can be pruned any time of year. Cut off dead brown stems and any that are growing in odd directions. Cut shoots flush with main stems and do not leave stubs. Regular pruning keeps the plant nicely shaped.
‘China Doll’ is susceptible to spider mites, mealy bugs and aphids. Because they have so many leaves, they are difficult to treat for these pests so they should probably be tossed if they appear. Good air circulation around the plant prevents a fungal infection called leaf spot.