How to Grow Cotinus — Smokebush

Smokebush Cotinus Coggygria

Cotinus–commonly called Smokebush–is a deciduous shrub that bears 8-inch-long clusters of minute fluffy reddish or bronze blossoms from mid- to late summer. Blossoms are borne on slender wirelike stems, creating an illusion of smoke. The stems become hairy as the flowers fade, continuing the illusion of smoke.

Cotinus are grown for their broadly elliptic to rounded green or purple leaves which color in autumn. They are also grown for their hairy, plume-like panicles which appear in summer producing the smoke-like effect.

Plant Cotinus in a shrub border or as a specimen plant singly or in groups.

Cotinus is a genus of two species of deciduous trees and shrubs. Cotinus is native to rocky habitats in the Southern United States and from the Mediterranean region to China.

Smoketree blossoms, Cotinus coggygria
Smoketree blossoms, Cotinus coggygria

Get to Know Cotinus

  • Plant type: Deciduous summer- and fall-blooming shrub
  • Growing Zones and range: 5-8
  • Hardiness: Half-hardy
  • Height and width: 12’- 15’ tall and wide
  • Foliage: Purple leaves; some cultivars have green leaves
  • Flowers: Pink-turning-to-gray flowers; male flowers produce more blooms than female plants
  • Bloom time: Mid- to late summer
  • Uses: Specimen adds drama to the landscape
  • Garden companions: Dwarf false cypress (chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Compacta’), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata
  • Common name: Smokebush, smoke tree
  • Botanical name: Cotinus coggygria
  • Family: Anacardiaceae
  • Origin: Southern United States and Mediterranean region to China

Where to Plant Cotinus

  • Plant Cotinus in full sun.
  • Grow Cotinus in average to poor, rocky, and very well-drained soil.
  • Plant Cotinus in a protected place. Cotinus are susceptible to damage during wind and ice storms.  
Smoke tree, Cotinus
Smoke tree, Cotinus

When to Plant Cotinus

  • Set established Cotinus in spring or fall.

Planting and Spacing Cotinus

  • Space Cotinus 12 to 15 feet apart.

How to Water and Feed Cotinus

  • Cotinus needs moderate moisture; keep the soil just moist.
  • Feed Cotinus with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. 
  • Cotinus needs no extra fertilizer in most conditions.

Cotinus Care

  • Mulch around Cotinus to conserve soil moisture.
  • Prune Cotinus to control size in early spring just as growth is beginning, but do not shear.
  • Selectively cut out branches at ground level or “head off” branches just above a leaf bud.
  • Cut the whole shrub down to just a few inches above the ground if desired.
  • Cotinus will resprout from stumps cut to the ground.  

Cotinus Pests and Diseases

  • Cotinus can develop Verticillium wilt; powdery mildew may affect purple-leaved forms. 
Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple
Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple

Cotinus Propagation

  • Sow Cotinus seed in containers in autumn. 
  • Layer Cotinus in spring.
  • Root softwood cuttings in summer.

Cotinus Varieties to Grow

  • C. coggygria, Smoke bush, Venetian sumac, bushy tree or shrub with oval, mid-green leaves, to 3 inches (8cm) long, turning yellow to orange and red in autumn. Fruiting panicles, to 6 inches (15cm) long, are green at first, becoming fawn then gray as they mature. To 15 feet (5m) tall and wide. Southern Europe to Central China. Zones 4 to 7. Cultivars include: ‘Flame’ turns brilliant orange-red in autumn; ‘Pink Champagne’ bear beige-pink flowers; ‘Royal Purple’ has dark red-purple foliage that turns scarlet in autumn.
  • C. obovatus, American smoke tree, Chittamwood, broadly conical shrub or small tree with attractive, plate-like, gray to gray-brown bark and obovate to oval leaves, to 5 inches (13cm) or more long, pinkish bronze when young, turning brilliant orange, red, and purple in autumn. Large, plume-like, pinkish gray fruiting panicles, to 12 inches (30cm) long, are borne in summer and persist into autumn. Tolerates alkaline soils. To 30 feet (10m) tall and 25 feet (8m) wide. Southeast United States.   

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