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  3. Growing and Caring for Cotinus (Smoke Bush)

Growing and Caring for Cotinus (Smoke Bush)

Cotinus, commonly known as the ‘smoke bush’, is a striking shrub appreciated for its hazy plumes of soft pink flowers in summer and dramatic foliage. Cotinus might be the perfect choice if you want to add a touch of bold colour to your garden. This guide will walk you through the essential steps to plant, grow, and care for your smoke bush.

How to Grow Smoke Bush

Smoke bushes thrive in well-drained, fertile soil. Choose a spot in your garden that gets full sun or partial shade. Annual mulching with well-rotted manure or leaf mould in spring will help keep the plant healthy. Smoke bushes generally require little to no pruning, making them relatively low-maintenance.

Where to Plant Smoke Bush

All Cotinus varieties prefer well-drained, fertile soil. They do best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Your smoke bush’s distinctive foliage can make it a standout feature in a border.

Garden border, clipped topiary yew trees, purple smoke bush (cotinus)

How to Plant Smoke Bush

Plant pot-grown Cotinus in autumn for the best results. When planting, mix a generous spade full of well-rotted manure into the planting hole. This enriches the soil and supports healthy root development.

Caring for Your Smoke Bush

Cotinus is easy to care for. It doesn’t require much pruning, but prune the stems back hard in early spring if you want to encourage bushier growth and larger leaves. After pruning, apply a generous layer of well-rotted manure or leaf mould. Even without heavy pruning, a good spring feed will benefit your plant.

Autumn Color Leaves of Cotinus Coggygria.

Propagating Cotinus

To propagate smoke bush, take softwood cuttings in summer. This straightforward method allows you to expand your garden without much expense.

Common Issues and Solutions

Smoke bushes are generally hardy but can be affected by verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungal disease that causes dieback. If your plant is infected, removing and destroying it is best to prevent the fungus from spreading. Avoid replanting Cotinus in the same spot to minimise the risk of disease recurrence.

Smoke Bush Care Tips

Light: Plant your smoke bush in full sun for optimal foliage colour and health. The foliage may be less dense in partial shade, and regular pruning will be needed.

Soil: Smoke bush adapts to most soil conditions as long as the soil is well-drained. Poorly draining or waterlogged soils should be avoided.

Water: Water young plants deeply and regularly, about twice a week. Once established, smoke bush is drought-resistant and only needs moderate watering every 10 days during the growing season.

Temperature and Humidity: The smoke bush prefers moderate temperatures and average to dry humidity. It may be prone to fungal diseases in very warm, moist climates. Plant it in a sheltered location in colder regions to protect it from harsh winter winds.

Fertiliser: This plant doesn’t require much feeding. Fertilise in spring or add a layer of compost. An annual application of organic plant food can be beneficial if the shrub is not growing vigorously.

Overwintering: Avoid overwatering during winter. Do not fertilise the bushes this season. Use 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the base to protect the roots from cold damage.


Cotinus, or smoke bush, is a vibrant addition to any garden, known for its unique foliage and summer blooms. With the proper care and attention, your smoke bush will thrive, adding beauty and interest to your garden for many years.

Updated on July 10, 2024

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