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How to Care for a Smoke Tree

smoke tree image by Gail Ranney from

Blossoming trees enhance yards and landscapes by adding colorful blossoms along with foliage. One type of blossoming tree, the smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria), produces small clusters of blossoms resembling puffs of smoke along the branches. Many smoke trees grow to a height and width of 15 feet, forming a rounded shape at maturity. These trees, also known as smoke bushes, exhibit deep, purple leaves when grown in full sunlight to partial shade. Healthy specimens require careful attention during planting and establishment.

Plant your smoke tree in an area of full sun in your landscape. The sun causes the tree to form leaves in deep shades of purple. Areas that receive partial shade encourage softer-colored leaves. Provide rich, well-drained soil for your smoke tree. Incorporate compost or commercial fertilizer into the soil at the time of planting to ensure adequate soil nutrients and loose soil that drains easily. Use a shovel to mix the additives with the existing soil.

Water your smoke tree regularly. These trees require moist soil to flourish. Keep the soil slightly moist near the roots at all times. Add mulch over the roots in arid or windy climates.

Prune your smoke tree once a year to encourage healthy growth. Remove dead branches and limbs as they appear. Cut back the tree once a year, preferably in the early spring. Create a round, bushy shape by removing all of the stems to allow two or three buds near the base to remain. When allowing the tree to grow to its full height, cut back branches that appear overgrown or spindly.

Place compost around the base of the trunk in late fall and early winter. Use this side dressing to provide added warmth during winter months and to increase soil nutrients in the spring. Remove remaining compost before the tree begins showing signs of new growth in the spring.

Look for signs of mildew on the leaves of your smoke tree. These trees often suffer from various types of mildew. Wilting leaves and powdery residue signal the presence of mildew. Treat this condition with a fungicide formulated for use on smoke trees. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying fungicide to your smoke tree.

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