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china doll
china doll  
Hi I have a china doll that I purchased last summer in a greenhouse.  It seemed healthy until about a month later the top leaves started turning black and now they are brown and drying out.  I am wondering what the problem is.  My water has a alot of calcium in it and I am wondering if this would be causing the problem. I live in south central Canada. Help please. thanks

Hi Irene,

Thanks for the photo. That clearly reveals the problem. The most common mistake in potted plant care is putting plants into pots that are too large. Yours is about 3 times larger than it should be.

Pots that are too large hold excess soil, which acts like a sponge retaining water around the roots for too long and causing root rot. The symptoms you described are classic root rot symptoms.

Unfortunately, the damage was done a while ago and the roots have been slowly rotting for a long time and the effects are just now showing. There is little you can do to get the China Doll to recover. Be mindful that the roots need to dry out. So, allow the top inch of soil to dry before adding any water and then add just enough so that the soil reaches that level of dryness again within a week or less.

I don't recommend downsizing the pot because the roots are too weak to withstand the trauma of repotting. Fertilizer will not help and there are no instant cures or fixes for root rot. You simply have to wait patiently and hope that there are enough roots left to support the plant while it slowly produces new roots in drier soil. First the plant will have to stabilize and then slowly push out healthy new growth, if it is to recover. If you don't see stability and new growth within a month then the plant will probably not recover.

I don't think excess calcium is causing the immediate problem. However, over time excess calcium build-up can reach toxic levels. Therefore, I suggest you switch to filtered or distilled water.

I have written a detailed article on repotting that I will email for free to you (or anyone else) who emails a request to me at I have also written an indoor plant care book in a PDF format that I can sell you if you contact me at my email address.

Please let me know if any of this is unclear or if you have any additional questions.

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Will Creed


I am the only expert in this category with professional hands-on experience and knowledge of all indoor plants. I can answer questions regarding light, water, fertilizer, repotting, pruning and humidity and temperature requirements. I can identify plant pests and provide information on safe, effective treatments. My answers are based on 35 years of professional experience and scientific research and are clear and easy to understand. I do NOT use search engines to find answers to your questions. If you read my previous posts here, you will get a good idea as to how thorough and professional my answers are.


I have over 35 years of professional indoor landscaping experience caring for plants in homes, offices, building lobbies, stores, restaurants, and other adverse environments. I have written extensively on the care of indoor plants, including a 260 page book. My specialties include Ficus trees, low light plants, repotting, pest control, and re-blooming holiday plants. Be sure to check my ratings and nominations to learn why I am the top-rated indoor plant expert. I am the only House Plant expert consistently ranked in the AllExperts Top 20.

BA, Amherst College

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