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How to Trim a Smoke Bush

By Eulalia Palomo ; Updated September 21, 2017

The smoke bush gets its name from a flower that makes the whole bush look like a cloud of red smoke. Even when not in full bloom, the smoke bush is an attractive addition to the landscape. The deep purple, glossy leaves make a rich color point in the garden. Left untended, smoke bushes can get very tall and leggy, making them look gangly and unattractive. Heavy pruning every three to four years will keep your shrub looking compact, healthy and vibrant while yearly light pruning will keep your smoke bush looking neat and trim.

Look at the basic structure of your smoke bush and identify three to five main branches. If the shrub has become too tall or scraggly, these are the ones to go. Cut them down to 3 to 4 feet from the ground.

Cut out any branches that are crossing another branch and any wood that looks weak, dead or diseased. Use clean pruning shears and disinfect them between cuts to avoid spreading disease.

Inspect the interior structure of the plant and take out every other or every third branch. Make the cut at the base of the branch where it emerges from the main trunk.

In the following year take out the branches you left the previous year. That way the shrub will not look hacked after the first pruning.


Things You Will Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Tree saw


  • If your smoke bush has a nice shape, a pleasing size and appears healthy, just prune out any weak or diseased-looking wood.
  • The smoke bush flowers only from wood that is at least 2 years old. If you have to prune heavily, the shrub will not flower from the pruned wood until the following year. If you don't care about the flowers and like the shrub only for its rich purple leaves, prune yearly and enjoy the rich glossy color of the leaves.
  • You can use pruning shears or clippers for small branches, for larger branches use a small tree saw.
  • The best time to prune is in early spring before new growth begins to emerge.

About the Author


Eulalia Palomo has been a professional writer since 2009. Prior to taking up writing full time she has worked as a landscape artist and organic gardener. Palomo holds a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from Boston University. She travels widely and has spent over six years living abroad.