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How to Transplant a Smoke Bush

The smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), commonly referred to as the smoke tree, is a small multi-branched shrub that rarely tops 15 feet in height. In early summer the plant produces small flowers that have long filaments on each blossom cluster. These striking filaments make the shrub appear smokey. The bush also produces tiny berries in the fall. The shrub is available in numerous cultivars that offer a variety of colors to fit any landscape. The smoke bush can be transplanted easily with a few steps. Growth can be severely slowed after transplant for the first year or two. Transplanting should take place in early spring.

Choose a location that offers full sun to transplant the smoke bush. The shrub can tolerate partial shade but for ideal foliage and filament colors the smoke bush should be planted in full sun. Soil that is fertile and nutrient-rich will help yield best transplant results. The smoke bush can withstand nutrient-poor soil conditions but the growth will be slowed.

Dig a hole that is twice the size of the smoke bush root system. Work humus into the soil. Peat moss, leaf mulch or sawdust should be added to the garden soil at a ratio of 50 percent humus with 50 percent garden soil.

Work a pitchfork gently around the base of the smoke bush. Start 2 to 3 feet out from the stems of the bush. Insert the pitchfork into the soil and pry upward. Circle the bush using the pitchfork. Once the dirt is loose take a shovel and begin to dig and lift the shrub from its hole.

Plant the smoke bush in its new location promptly. Do not allow roots to dry out in the sun and air. Place the shrub into the newly dug transplant hole and begin to firm the soil/humus mixture around the root system. Tamp the soil down firmly to remove all air pockets that might form between the shrubs roots and the soil.

Water the smoke bush thoroughly to allow the soil to settle. If the dirt sinks in around the root system add additional soil. Make sure the shrub's base sits at the same level in the dirt as it did in its previous location. Place 3 to 4 inches of mulch around the base of the smoke tree to keep weeds at bay and also help the soil retain moisture.

Apply water weekly. The soil should be kept moist but not waterlogged. Smoke bush can withstand long periods of drought when fully established but for the first year after transplant the bush needs to have moist soil conditions to thrive. Fertilize in June following the spring transplant using a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the label for application.


In early spring the smoke bush can be severely pruned if the gardener desires a bushy, compact shrub. The smoke bush can be trimmed back to only two or three buds.

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