Smoketree Care

Growing Smoketree

A hazy cloud of champagne-pink smoke hovers about a shrub growing upright with emerald green oval-shaped foliage. Is it smoking? No, when the blooms of smoketree fade, long, slender petioles are revealed, mirroring puffy fairy-like plumes. With showy spring/summer blooms and unique fall foliage, these deciduous shrubs can be planted as specimens or grouped in privacy screens or hedges. Hardy in zones 5 to 8 and drought tolerant, smoketrees tolerate poor soils and are disease resistant. These ornamental shrubs grow moderately fast and are easy to care for, making them smart options when searching for plants offering a lot of color with minimal risk.


Two common species of smoketree are Cotinus coggygria, or Common Smoke Tree, and Cotinus obovatu, or American Smoke Tree. Cotinus coggygria, a native of North America, reaches a maximum height and spread of 10 to 15 feet and possesses pink florets in summer, followed by showy fall foliage that is either green or claret. Cotinus obovatu, a native of the Southeastern United States, grows to a maximum height and spread of 20 to 30 feet and is characterized by pink and purple summer flowers followed by striking magenta, apricot, crimson, and marigold foliage during the fall. Both species are commonly incorporated into landscapes as shrubs or small trees. 

Planting Smoketree

Smoketree produces more brilliant foliage color when afforded at least 6 hours of full sun. This adaptable plant tolerates various soils as long as they drain well. Dig a hole about two times as wide and a little deeper than the root ball and cover the root ball with the native soil. Water in the roots well and add a 2-inch layer of mulch around the dripline to conserve moisture. Plant the shrub with sneezeweed, rudbeckia, and Russian sage for a stunning combination. 


Watering Smoketree

Water smoketree regularly until this plant’s roots are established. Once established, water three to four times per month depending on rainfall. Cotinus obovatu prefers drier soil than Cotinus coggygria, so make sure not to overwater this species. Applying two to three inches of mulch will help slow evaporation and prevent dehydration during the hot summer months.  

Fertilizing Smoketree

Tolerating a variety of soils including nutrient-deficient substrates, Smoketree does not normally need a lot of fertilizer. If your soil is particularly compact, however, amend the planting hole with compost. To jumpstart slow growers, apply a slow-release, balanced fertilizer after the first signs of foliage growth in early spring. A light feeding will encourage additional development of the leaves and stems.

Pruning Smoketree

Growing upright and bushy, this low-maintenance perennial does not require regular pruning. Cut back Cotinus coggygria to 6 to 8 inches in late winter/early spring to improve its shape and control its size. Hard pruning results in larger, showier foliage, but it will decrease flowering. To enhance the health and shape of Cotinus, remove dead, diseased, damaged, and/or crossed stems during late winter/early spring. Doing so will encourage growth and discourage disease.


Caring For Smoketree in Pots

Smoketree’s showy flowers and foliage enhance patios, porches, and decks when grown in containers. Choose a hefty container 2 to 4 inches larger than the root ball, with a large drainage hole. Place the container in a sunny location and fill it with an all-purpose potting soil amended with perlite and compost. Water potted smoketree regularly until established. Then, reduce watering to about once a week when the soil dries out. Plant this shrub with verbena and yarrow for a knockout summer combination. 

Winter Care for Smoketree

Apply 2-4 inches of mulch to insulate Smoketree’s roots from hard freezes. Continue to water but do not fertilize during the fall. Wrap this perennial with hardware cloth to protect it from little critters such as rabbits during winter. You can use chicken wire, a wire basket, or wire fencing for protection.