Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton

Friday, May 18, 2012

'Smoke Bush' Steals the Show

The Smoke Bush rules in June and July!
 I planted a red-purple leaved variety of Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria) in my small front yard years ago and it has been a stalwart eye catcher from the beginning. It makes the front of my house extra-ordinary in early summer.

'Royal Purple' Cotinus

As a result, I use the oval purple foliage of cotinus in many of my landscapes - it makes a great backdrop and can also be a sturdy specimen shrub...and it is DEER RESISTANT.

The Cotinus species is a rounded, bushy shrub that is happy and hardy wherever you plant it.  Known as Smoke Bush due to the 'smoke-like' appearance of its delicate flower clusters in summer,  it can even be adapted to a planter.

  Both the varieties of smoke bush - green with flowers and the red leaved variety  - are in this planter

The burgundy leaves of the 'Royal Purple' Smokebush deepen through the summer, turning a vibrant purple-red in fall, especially dramatic in full sun. Its colored leaves are its signature since 'Royal Purple' does not flower as reliably as the green leaved Smoke bush varieities.

Red leaved Smoke Bush with Japanese painted fern - a lovely combo.  Photo by Jan Johnsen

One reason you may not see Smoke Bush often is that it grows slowly and does not look like much when you first plant it. But after a few years, Smoke Bush comes into its own. Just give it a little time and do not be afraid to keep it in check by pruning down tall branches in late winter /early spring.  Aggresive pruning also ensures slightly larger leaves on a Smoke Bush!


  1. Thanks for this post on Smoke Bush. It is a beautiful plant, and apparently it is deer resistant! I will definitely give it a try!

  2. Thanks for sharing this plant with good maintanance !!i try to grow in my garden too

  3. Jan - I am the caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse NY. I am looking to plant a visual screen using purple smoke bush (Cotinus Coggygria Attropurpurea). My intent is to plant 5 bushes staggered about seven or eight feet apart. Is that too close in your opinion?

    Thank you,
    Tom Clarke

  4. For a screen I would place them even closer - 4 ft. ..They grow very slowly in the beginning. Make sure to aggressively prune them in the spring. Right now! Good Luck.

  5. Hello, Jan,

    You have the BEST information in your blog about 'my' beloved Purple Smoke Bush! I bought an established bush, and it has been a very fast grower, getting much taller and more full than I expected -- so much so that my husband has pruned it within an inch of its life in August and again in late winter.

    It hasn't bloomed since he started doing that. Is there a correlation or is that just Purple's temperamental blooming nature, do you think?

    Thank you so much!

  6. I did not prune my purple smoke bush this late winter as I always do and guess what? It bloomed like crazy! So do not prune in late winter...anytime until Labor Day is fine- not later.

    1. Thank you so much! I'll let you know how it goes next year.


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