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China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Posted by tammypie So Ca (My Page) on
Thu, Jul 7, 11 at 0:32

Hi,

I have a China Doll plant that I've had for a couple of years. Last year, I cut it down to the stump, and it grew into a lush, beautiful plant/tree. It's happy in a 12 inch pot sitting on top of a toilet at an east facing window (upstairs).

My question is, should I have to cut it back, and if so, when and what time of year? Do I need to cut it back even though it looks pretty healthy?

Thanks, TammyPie


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Tammy,

I don't know the answer but do you have a picture? They're lovely plants and one that I can't seem to grow.

Thanks,
Susan


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RE: indoor china doll

I have a china doll plant that I keep indoors. I bought it last year. I know that we are to keep it moist. A couple of weeks when I was not home it dried out . Now the leaves on the bottom have dried out . Is there anyway to get the leaves to come back?


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Oct 31, 11 at 15:07

Tammy - you only need to cut it back to keep it within the bounds you've set for it as far as size is concerned, and to eliminate any branches that cross or are growing back toward the center of the tree. Summer is the best time to cut this plant back. For you, I'd say sometime between Father's Day and the end of June. That gives the plant the early summer to build energy reserves for the major work, and the rest of the summer to regain some reserve energy for the shorter days of winter. In SoCal, you can get away with a little more than in more northerly climes, but the best time is still as outlined. That holds true for repotting as well. Any time you intend to do major work on a houseplant or tropical tree, it just makes sense to undertake the work when the plant has high energy reserves. This facilitates the fastest recovery and leaves the plant far less vulnerable to insect predation and disease than if you undertook the work in late winter or spring when the plant is at it's lowest energy level of the entire growth cycle.

We work on trees to keep them healthy, which is a significantly better strategy than to ignore them until they're in severe decline and then trying to fix things. Regular root pruning when repotting (repotting is a more involved process and much better for plants than simply potting up) and a change of soil is an oft overlooked part of keeping trees healthy over the long term.

Tracy - keep the soil barely damp and the plant in good light but not direct sun ..... and wait. Often, leaf loss is the plant's drought response in action and a protective mechanism to keep the tree from losing all it's moisture through the leaves. Odds are good the tree will recover if it wasn't too dry for too long.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: May be of interest .........


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Hi Al,

Thanks for the advice! I will certainly cut my China Doll back in the early spring.

Do you recommend a good fertilizer for my CD so the leaves get dark green? Other than that, my Rademachera Sinica is awesome looking! I throw in a small glass of water in the pot every 2-3 days just to keep the roots working for that moisture - once in a awhile I will add more water.

TammyPie


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 21, 11 at 10:56

I recommended pruning in early summer - around Father's Day, but if the plant is healthy & growing well, you can prune earlier w/o a significant impact on recovery time. The two things that determine how fast a plant recovers from significant work, like major pruning and repotting, depends on how much energy the plant has stored and on it's potential for producing energy at the time of the work. For tropicals, waiting until Father's Day to repot (as opposed to potting up) and do hard pruning allows the plant to recover from low spring energy levels and to take advantage of the longest days (photoperiod) of the growth cycle.

I heartily recommend Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 because it contains ALL the essential nutrients at the same ratio in which plants use them. This is a significant plus for the plant and the grower because it allows you to maintain fertility at the lowest possible level w/o nutritional deficiencies. This translates into conditions that make it easiest for the plant to take up water and nutrients. To the grower it means improved growth and a greater likelihood of unspoiled foliage. Foliage-Pro also derives 2/3 of its N from Nitrate sources, which helps to reduce legginess, keeping plants fuller and more compact.

Al


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Thanks Al! Where can I get Foliage Pro 9-3-6?

TammyPie


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 21, 11 at 13:48

Unless you live near a larger city, you'll probably have to order from an online source. A quick search using the search words Foliage-Pro and 9-3-6 should yield plenty of sources.

Other soluble fertilizers in 3:1:2 ratios would be good second choices and probably more readily available. Look for a wide variety of brands of soluble granular fertilizers in 24-8-16 NPK %s, or Miracle-Gro 12-4-8 liquid. These are all 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizers. The 'ratio' of the nutrients to each other is more important than the NPK %s. Ask, if you don't understand and want a more complete explanation.

Al


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Hi Al,

I just purchased Dyna Gro FoliagePro 9-3-6 for my CD plant. What do you recommend the proper amount? Do you go by the directions or do you use less food? Thanks, TammyPie


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Jan 7, 12 at 15:26

Many growers are all too happy to offer fertilizing directives with no understanding of what you're using for fertilizer (here, we do) or your watering habits and your soil type. Many would also have you believe that you shouldn't fertilize in winter. The subject is much too diverse to offer such blanket advice w/o information related to what I said above.

For instance, if you're using a heavy soil that inherently invites the build-up of salts in the soil because you're forced to water in sips to avoid root rot, THEN the advice to avoid fertilizer in winter might be appropriate ...... to save you from yourself. The fact is, the plant still wants a full compliment of nutrients in the soil at a level high enough to prevent nutritional deficiencies, but not so high that it inhibits water uptake. The REAL reason the advice is so often repeated that you shouldn't fertilize in the winter has nothing to do with the plant's nutritional needs, and everything to do with preventing you from over-fertilizing - that is to say to prevent you from a practice that promotes a high level of salts in the soil, when plants most need a LOW level of salts in the soil, that being winter. To be sure, they DO want and need salts in the soil - just not too much. The advice is given because someone is trying to protect you from what they assume is a heavy soil you'll be watering in sips, but making an assumption and acting as though it applies across the board does not illustrate an understanding of soil science or plant nutrition.

I said all that so I can say that even though you made an excellent choice of fertilizers, how you best apply it depends on your watering habits and soil type. I use FP 9-3-6 almost to the entire exclusion of all other fertilizers. In the summer, I DO fertilize by mixing the solution by hand in a large container & applying it with watering cans. The frequency is largely temperature dependent, but I use a heavy tablespoon in every 2-1/2 gallons about weekly. In winter, I fertilize every time I water, after adding just under 1/4 tsp per gallon of water.

This strategy works extremely well for fast soils that can be properly watered at every watering w/o fear of root rot, but won't work well if you're using a heavy soil that requires you water in sips. Obviously, if no water is exiting the drain hole, fertilizer and tap water salts all remain in the soil to impair root function.

The disadvantage of using heavy soils are several. They promote salt build-up because you can't flush them easily without a threat to root health/function. Because you can't effectively flush them at each watering, the RATIO of nutrients in the soil quickly becomes skewed. This means that if you're not regularly flushing the soil, you're absolutely guaranteed either excesses (toxicities) or deficiencies. I can easily explain this if required, but I'll skip it for now. Plant appearance and health are also affected to a large degree by water-retentive soils OR the salt build-up that accompanies them.

If you give me an idea of what you're using for soil, I'll help you put together a strategy that will allow you to water properly and get the most out of your fertilizer. Also, how large is the pot your plant is in - is it easy to move about or cumbersome?

Al



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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Hi Al,

I am currently using a potting mix (purchased from HD) but I'm not exactly sure, as I've had this plant for 2-3 years now without re-potting or changing the soil. That being said, I want to know if this spring, if it's OK and it won't harm my CD - if I remove it from the pot, take off all the old potting mix as I can (even trimming off some of the root ball) and re-potting in a new potting mix? And if so, what do you recommend as a potting mix? I also read that China Dolls don't like change or re-potting.

Thank you, Tammy


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 8, 12 at 12:58

I think there are several ways to look at the thought that a particular plant might be described as not liking repotting, or even change. First, no plant really appreciates having a significant % of its (root) mass removed. Chop off 2/3 of a plant's roots & you can be assured of a reaction initially unfavorable. Some plants are more sensitive than others to having that particular dignity heaped on them, but lets look at the alternatives.

As a plant becomes root bound to about the point where the root/soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact, growth and vitality begins to become negatively and permanently affected. Left to it's own devices and the root bound condition uncorrected through a full repot which includes root pruning, the plant starts a gradual decline that can only be reversed by correcting the root bound condition. These plants can never have the opportunity to grow to their genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors potentially affecting growth.

The plant that is root pruned and repotted at about the point where the planting reaches that stage where the root/soil mass remains intact if you depot, or soon after, is assured of the potential to grow to it's genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors.

As growers, we do best by our plants when we eliminate or reduce to the greatest degree possible, all limiting factors. Eventually, if you don't maintain a healthy root system, the compromised root system will become the most significant limiting factor, which means nothing you can do in the way of improving every other potential limitation can make a difference.

You can find confirmation in what I said by looking to bonsai trees AND their companion plantings, both of which are often commonly grown houseplants. These plants, genetically indistinguishable from many houseplants, often enjoy life spans measured in centuries, where many hobby growers remain pleased with plant life spans measured in months, even though they often have the potential to flourish for periods hundreds of times longer.

What I'm saying is that while you can initially expect the plant to react in a slightly negative way, it's best for the plant over the long run, the adverse effects are very short lived (usually only a week or two), and there is so much to gain. We prune plants above ground regularly, and often harshly; why would we logically expect we couldn't do the same to below ground parts, the roots?

Spring is a good time to repot or transplant temperate perennials (trees are perennials too) because their dormant rest ensures that nearly all the energy they accumulated in the summer prior is still stored safely in roots and ready for conversion to growth. Houseplants, unless we supplement cultural conditions so they're much better than average, generally use more energy than they are able to produce during the winter months. This leaves the plants of a very high % of growers in weakened condition come spring. For that reason, it's better to wait until the plant has had some time to regain and store some energy before repotting. The plant will recover MUCH faster if it is worked on (repotting/heavy pruning) when it is bursting with energy, instead of just limping along after a winter of surviving on its energy reserves.

There is little question that the potential for best growth and the margin for grower error in the areas of watering and fertilizing increases markedly as the amount of perched water soils support decreases. Think of perched water as the water you could wring out of a soil if you squeezed it - just as if you were squeezing a saturated sponge. Plants like a soil about as damp as a wrung out sponge best. They do NOT like soils that hold excessive volumes of water or significant amounts of perched water. IOW, they show their appreciation for soils that drain very freely and have lots of aeration. Soils like that need to start with a significant fraction of particles larger than those found in pear, compost, coir, sand (play/beach/builder), topsoil, manure ..... By adopting a soil based on larger particles, like pine bark or other inorganic mineral particles, you can expect it to be much easier to bring along healthy plants. These soils allow you to water properly at any time; they eliminate problems associated with gradual salt build-up (as long as you water correctly), and provide a much healthier root environment than their counterparts that remain soggy after watering correctly.

You really can't effectively amend a soil comprised of nearly all fine particles - let's say one based on peat or finished compost. You can reduce water retention by adding ingredients that don't hold water but take up space (perlite, e.g.) but perlite has little impact on drainage (flow through rate), aeration, or the ht of the perched water table; and it's the perched water that kills roots. I suggest you make your own soils if you really want the best results with the least chance for problems. I can help you decide if you want to make your own, or I can help you with ways to get the most from a commercially prepared mix, but you can make a very high quality soil for much less than most commercially packaged soils.

Let me know if you want more help.

Al


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Yes, Al, if you can suggest what ingredients to make up a good quality potting mix I would appreciate it. Thank you for your informative, articulate advice.

Tammy


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jan 10, 12 at 17:11

You're most welcome.

The key to building a soil you can be sure will support best root health is in basing your soil on large, rather than small particles. Imagine a jar of sand. In your mind's eye, you can see there is very little air space, something extremely important to root health, between the sand particles. Now, increase the particle size and imagine a jar full of BBs. Can you see all the healthy air spaces between the BBs; and can you imagine how freely water would flow through the BBs? Now, how about if we mixed the sand & BBs, half & half? can you see that the sand would simply fill in the air spaces between the BBs so you'd essentially be left with the same amount of aeration as if the mix was ALL sand?

The same thing happens when you try to add a little pine bark or perlite to peat/compost-based soils. The fine particles simply fill in around the larger particles, and you're left with the same drainage properties (flow through rate) and the same ht of the perched water table (PWT) - which is the most significant limiting factor re soils. The PWT is the water that completely saturates the bottom of containers after a thorough watering. It hangs around, inhibiting root function and causing problems, because the capillary attraction of the small particles is stronger than gravity - so the water stays in the pot.

In order to trump the negative effects of the PWT, the lion's share of the particles that make up the soil need to be larger than peat/compost/coir/sand/topsoil .... By the 'lion's share', I mean at least 75-80%.

There are two basic soils I use for everything I grow. One is a combination of pine bark fines, peat, and perlite at 5:1:1. The other, the 'gritty mix' the one I grow all my houseplants and long-term plantings in, is comprised of 1 part each of the following (by volume): Screened pine or fir bark: Screened Turface: crushed granite (Gran-I-Grit in grower size) or #2 cherrystone.

Photobucket

Alternately, Fafard makes 3 mixes that are close to the 5:1:1 mix above. Their 'nursery mix, 3M mix, and 51L mix all contain a large fraction of pine bark. They are not always easy to find, and when you find an operation that uses/sells Fafard products, you'll likely need to talk them into including the product with a regular order. You can make the 5:1:1 mix yourself for about half the cost of buying Fafard's or other prepared mixes.

If you're up for locating the ingredients for making your own soil let me know. If you want to learn more about soils and see what other's think about what I just offered, click this embedded link, or for a discussion about soils on this forum, see the link below.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Click me to see what he was talking about.


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

OK, where can I get turface and granite grit? I'm guessing my local nursery sells pine bark. Would orchid bark work just as well? Thanks, Tammy


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jan 11, 12 at 7:51

Where do you live. You might want to consider adding that tidbit to the user info that shows up in your posts - like my "zone 5b-6a mid-MI".

Al


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Great and thorough advice, Al!

Tammy, I use "Orchid Bark" occasionally, although it tends to be more expensive per volume.
You'll want the "fine grade," and you'll still need to screen out the largest particles and the finest dust.
The large particles can be used for certain Orchids/Hoyas in other mixes, and the fine dust can be kept
as a peat substitute (if you need to increase moisture in a mix [for ferns, for example]).


Josh


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Al, I live in So. California (Orange County).


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jan 11, 12 at 16:13

For Turface, do an online search to see if you have any Ewing Irrigation Stores near you (Anaheim, Garden Grove, Lake Forest, San Clemente, Santa Anna) - or John Deere Landscapes dealers. The Horizon Dealer in Orange (714) 279-8154 should have it, too. Ask for Turface 'MVP' or 'Allsport'.

I'll check a thread over on the container gardening forum that's dedicated to helping growers find various ingredients. If you're lucky, maybe someone in your neighborhood already using the gritty mix will pitch in and help.

You can substitute coarse perlite for the granite if you have to, or if you find a suitable sized pumice, we can make that work, too. Call around, for the bark (pine/fir/redwood), but I'll look for that, too. The size of the ingredients is important. It may initially be a pain to locate what you need, but if you're willing to do the legwork (with whatever help we can be), I'm sure you'll be well-pleased with the results.

I gave a presentation after a pleasant luncheon this afternoon to a local chapter (Saginaw, MI) of a national organization (Women's Farm and Garden Association). I talked about many of the things I regularly share here (the topic was caring for houseplants) - the response was very enthusiastic - great audience participation and involvement, with the most questions asked being about soils - and particularly about how to make them. Though I never got to that part (ran out of time), a promise to provide recipes and instructions was extracted. It was a really great group - very friendly. I'm still excited about the positive response, but most of all I'm thrilled as a result of getting to see 'the light go on' over and over again as the ladies (and a few gentleman guests) sort of rearranged some of the pieces of the container gardening/houseplants puzzle and gained understanding in areas where there may have been some confusion or even a void. I'll never grow weary of seeing that 'AHA moment' - it's tremendously rewarding - I'm still pumped. ;-)

Al


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Hi Al,

Thank you for your information. I did call a John Deere store in Irvine, CA. They only sell 50 lb. bags of Turface, which is WAY too much for me. I will try Ewing Irrigation, the Lake Forest store is one town over tomorrow.

Yes, I will do my research and look for exactly what you recommend (I trust YOU and your expertise), the crushed granite, pine bark, etc.

I have a question tho - would aquarium gravel work? I have some (small, tiny rocks) that I used for my betta tank. Just thought I'd ask since I have them.

Also, Amazon.com sells Bonsai potting mix, with exactly the ingredients you mentioned. Would that be an ideal potting mix for my house plants, including my CD plant?

You're the best, Al!

Tammy


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Hey, Tammy, those 50 lb. bags are typically what we purchase ;-)
I actually purchase two bags at a time, for good measure. When the product is screened,
the fine particles will be removed.

Josh


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Hey Greenman, I don't need a 50 lb. bag because I don't have too many houseplants that I need to repot. What do you do with the fine particles you screen, and what size screen do you use to screen Turface?


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

I use a piece of aluminum window screen to remove the fine Turface particles.
The squares in the window screen are 1/16 of an inch.

The Turface fines are thrown into my garden plot or into flower beds, but Al has mentioned
using the fines in hypertufa pots.

You'd be surprised how fast a 50 lb. bag will disappear! ;-)


Josh


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jan 12, 12 at 14:53

Aquarium gravel will work if it's the right size.

Commercially prepared bonsai potting soils are usually not very good for bonsai OR houseplants because they don't screen the fine particles out before mixing, but they ARE better than 99% of the peat-based commercial soils by virtue of their higher % of larger, grittier particles. In the end, it all comes down to a combination of particle size and uniformity.

Al


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Hi Al,

Well the year is progressing and I'm looking forward to Father's Day when I can finally cut down/repot my China Doll. My question is, what should I do first - cut her back first or vice versa? Should I trim the leaves, as I want to put her in a smaller (1 inch smaller) pot?

Thanks, TammyPie


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 16, 12 at 18:16

How about a picture so I can get an idea of how healthy it is?

Al


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

Oh, it's pretty healthy. Some of the leaves turn yellow and die near the bottom, esp. when I don't water it. But the top is pretty healthy.


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RE: China Doll Plant - when to cut back

I have a China Doll at work. It is ONLY under the floresent light, I water once a week., This plant is almost three feet high. I cannot believe how well this plant is doing. My fiance' bought the same size at the same time, he tryed his is different windows in his home, the poor thing wasn't growing> I took it and put it over on a shelf he has that he always leaves a regular light bulb on, it get only defused sunlight, yet this plant now is spouting.
Everyone at work is amazed how well this plant is doing, as am I. My vines are doing great too, so if you want some 'green' at work that's my recommendation.


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