Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria), also known as smoke bush, is a deciduous tree or shrub that has pinkish blooms in late spring. Find valuable information on growing and caring for smoke trees.
Smoke trees grow well in Zones 4-8 and will grow 10-15’ in both height and width. It is often used in shrub borders or in groupings. This beautiful tree has a medium growth habit and has an upright spreading form. Cotinus coggygria, whether a shrub or tree, is noted for its attractive, abundant flowers, which first appear in June.
The hairs on the 6-8” long plumes change color as they age, eventually becoming a smoky pinkish or purplish color. The leaves are more of a medium blue-green color in summertime. The fall color is generally fairly showy, with a mix of yellow, orange, and red. There are also many purple-leaved varieties.
In colder areas winter dieback is common, but the fast growing shrubs will spring back the following season. The smoke tree is easily transplanted and prefers full sun. It is also adaptable to many soils, and is tolerant of hot, dry, gravelly soils.
You should try to avoid where the soil may remain soggy. The best site for planting is a hilltop or slope in colder climates. Be sure to provide good drainage and protection from frost pockets.
Caring for Smoke Trees
Try to keep the soil evenly moist throughout the growing season. In colder climates you should also try to reduce watering in fall to encourage winter dormancy. Feed every spring with plant food.
Shrubs should be cut to the ground in early spring to enhance leaf coloration, especially of the purple-leaved types, and produce a dense, multi-stemmed shrub with few or no flowers. In colder areas where dieback is common, wait until plants have leafed out, then remove dead stems.
Propagation is done by taking softwood cuttings in midsummer. Seeds require scarification, soaking overnight in warm water, and stratification for 90 days.
Pest and Disease include verticillium wilt that can cause a sudden wilting of foliage. It is most common in heavy, poorly drained soils.
Related species include: ‘Nordine’ and ‘Royal Purple’, which are very popular purple-leaved varieties.