Planting Smoke Tree

Drought-tolerant, beautiful, and low-maintenance, the Smoke Tree has it all! While there are several common varieties of Smoke Tree (Cotinus spp.), they all have similar requirements, including a need for full sun, well-draining soil, and minimal pruning and fertilizing. Once you have chosen the perfect spot for your Smoke Tree, you will be able to enjoy its beautiful burgundy to blue-green leaves and its smoke-like flowers all summer long.

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What You Need To Plant Smoke Tree

  • Shovel
  • Compost or manure
  • Garden spade
  • Good location
  • Water source
  • Mulch

Where to Plant Smoke Tree

Smoke Trees grow best when planted in a spot where they can get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. In addition, while Smoke Trees are tolerant to many different soil types, you can set your Smoke Tree up for success by planting it in well-draining soil. This may mean mixing compost or soil conditioner in with your garden soil when backfilling. Dig a hole that is twice the width and as deep as the root ball. Like other trees, it is important not to bury the trunk any deeper than it is in the pot. Add a few inches of mulch around the base of the Smoke Tree to improve water retention and protect the roots from the cold in winter. 

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Smoke Tree Spacing

Smoke Tree spacing is going to depend greatly on the variety. Smoke Trees are typically grown as specimen plants, providing a bit of color and texture to the landscape. Larger varieties that grow 10+ feet tall and wide should be planted at least 10 feet away from structures and other plants. Smaller dwarf varieties that can be planted as hedge or in groups can be planted a couple feet apart, allowing them space to grow while also creating that hedge look. 

Steps To Plant Smoke Tree

Step 1 - Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight with plenty of distance from other plants and structures. 

Step 2 - Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the root ball. 

Step 3 - Place the root ball in the center of the hole. Make sure the top of the root ball is level with or slightly above the top of the hole. 

Step 4 - Backfill the hole with well-draining garden soil. 

Step 5 - Pat down the soil as you backfill. The soil should be firm but not so packed that the roots will struggle to grow. 

Step 6 - Once the hole is filled, water around the tree deeply, soaking at least the top 8 inches of soil. 

Step 7 - Add a couple inches of mulch around the base of your Smoke Tree to help with water retention.

When to Plant Smoke Tree

The best time of year to plant trees and shrubs is in the spring once the ground is workable or in the fall before the first frost. When possible and if planting in the summer is required, plant in the early morning before daytime temperatures reach their peak. This will prevent excessive water loss and reduce the amount of stress on your Smoke Tree. 

Transplanting Smoke Trees

Smoke Trees are difficult to transplant if they have grown very large. If you decide to try transplanting your Smoke Tree, you can do so in the spring when the ground is no longer frozen and the tree is just starting to wake up for the growing season. It is important to get as much of the root ball as possible. Start by digging about as far as the branches reach, lifting up the roots as you go. Once you have the root ball completely lifted from the soil, move to the prepared planting site and follow the planting process. 

If you are trying to propagate a Smoke Bush, you can do so through stem cuttings. Trim about 6 to 8 inches of a healthy stem, remove the lowest leaves and a bit of bark, and dip the end in rooting hormone. Place the cutting in a small pot with well-draining potting soil and keep the soil moist. Once the cutting has produced a handful of roots, you can transplant it to a sunny spot. Provide the cutting with a stake for support and protection.  

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 Author Lynn Gusman - Published 7-25-2023