Watering Smoke Tree

One of the great benefits of the Smoke Tree (Cotinus spp.), other than its stunning color and unique flower display, is its drought tolerance. Smoke Trees are not particular about the soil that they are grown in as long as it drains well, making them an easy plant to care for. To set your Smoke Tree up for success, provide adequate, deep watering in its first year or two to help it grow strong, deep roots. Both under-watering and over-watering your tree early on can negatively impact its ability to thrive. 


How To Tell If Smoke Tree Needs Watered

One way to tell if your Smoke Tree is ready for water is to examine the soil around its base. Dry, cracked soil is an indication that you have waited a bit too long and your Smoke Tree is ready for deep watering. Conversely, if the soil is still damp just below the surface, you can probably wait another day or two before watering deeply. Lower leaves yellowing and dropping is often an indication that a plant is not getting enough water, while splotchy, brown, mushy leaves can mean the opposite.

How Often To Water Smoke Tree

One key to growing a Smoke Tree successfully is watering it appropriately when it is young and newly planted. Smoke Trees do best when they receive a long, slow drink about twice a week in the summer. To water deeply, set your hose at the base of the plant and let the water flow at a moderate trickle for several minutes until the soil around the whole base of the plant is wet at least 6 inches down. Then, allow the top few inches to dry completely before watering again. This type of deep watering allows the plant’s roots to grow deep, better supporting it when large.

After its first full year in the ground, a Smoke Tree should be pretty well established, meaning its root system is fully anchoring it into the ground and large enough to seek out the water it needs. Once established, Smoke Trees can be quite drought tolerant, often able to survive on rainwater alone in more temperate regions. Rain doesn’t always penetrate deep into the soil, however, so it may still be best to continue to water your Smoke Tree deeply about once a week during the hottest parts of the year. It is possible to overwater a Smoke Tree, so you still need to allow the soil to dry out a bit in between waterings. 


When planted in pots or containers, Smoke Trees will dry out more frequently than when planted in the ground. Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry completely before watering deeply, until water comes out the bottom of the pot. Always plant Smoke Trees in well-draining soil, and only use potting soil when planting in containers. Containers should also always have at least one drainage hole. 

Best Time To Water Smoke Tree

It is best to water outdoor plants in the early morning or late evening, especially in the heat of the summer. This practice reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation. When watering a Smoke Tree, it is only necessary to wet the soil rather than the leaves or trunks. In the cooler months, only water when the soil is fully dry. Smoke Trees can be overwatered if their roots stay too wet for too long, which can lead to root rot. 

How to Water Smoke Tree

Step 1 - Feel soil for moisture.

Insert a finger into the soil around the base of the Smoke Tree. For young trees, allow the top few inches of soil to dry before watering. For established trees, the soil can dry out a bit deeper.

Step 2 - When dry, water.

When the top few inches are completely dry, your Smoke Tree is ready for water. Place a hose at the base of your tree and allow it to run until the top 6-8 inches around the whole tree are wet. 

Step 3 - Allow soil to dry before watering next.

Allow the top couple of inches of soil to dry completely before watering next. 

Step 4 - Observe the soil.

If your soil is cracking, you may be waiting too long in between waterings. If your soil is soupy and not drying out, you may need to amend the soil and improve drainage. 

Smoke Tree Watering Tips

  • Smoke Trees are drought tolerant when established
  • Plant Smoke Trees only in well-draining soil
  • Touching the soil can help tell you when to water next
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 Author Lynn Gusman - Published 7-25-2023