How to Plant and Grow Smoke Tree

This colorful plant is perfect for borders and privacy.

Smoke bush

Bob Stefko

Add colorful foliage to your landscape from spring to fall with the perennial smoke tree. Grown as a large shrub or small tree, the plant offers oval leaves in shades of rich purple, gold, or green throughout the gardening season. Hardy in Zones 5-8, when the weather cools in autumn, they turn shades of yellow, orange, and red. Smoke tree gets its common name from its fluffy buff-pink summertime bloom clusters. It's a reliable performer in the garden, holding up well in hot, dry conditions once the plant is established.

As smoke tree is in the same family as poison ivy, its sap can be mildly toxic to humans.

Smoke Tree Overview

Genus Name Cotinus coggygria
Common Name Smoke Tree
Plant Type Shrub, Tree
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 10 to 15 feet
Width 6 to 15 feet
Flower Color Pink, Yellow
Foliage Color Purple/Burgundy
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Summer Bloom
Special Features Good for Containers
Zones 5, 6, 7, 8
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Good For Privacy

Where to Plant Smoke Tree

Smoke tree needs lots of full sun, so plant them in a spot where they'll get six to eight hours a day. Since it grows in less-than-ideal soil, you can plant it where others won't grow, such as rocky or sandy spots. Keep them out of the way of windy areas—a wall or other barrier can be helpful for this. Smoke trees are excellent specimen plants if you are looking for a focal point for your landscape. They also work well in a mixed border or as a privacy screen.

How and When to Plant Smoke Tree

Container-grown smoke trees are best planted in spring, but they also can be planted in fall. Dig a hole twice the width and the same height as the root ball in well-draining soil. Don't add any fertilizer when planting, as it can burn the roots. Loosen the roots with your hands before planting. Set the plant in the hole and backfill the hole halfway. Tamp down the soil to remove air bubbles and repeat the process with the other half of the hole. After the soil is firm, build a 3-inch ring of soil outside the rootball to contain water. Add 3-inches of mulch without letting any of it touch the trunk. Water deeply.

Smoke Tree Care Tips

Smoke tree is easy to maintain and care for, with drought-resistance and low-quality soil tolerance.


Smoke tree needs lots of sunlight to survive. Plant it where larger trees won't obstruct its access to daylight. Anything less than full sun results in less foliage that isn't as vibrant.

Soil and Water

As long as the soil is well-draining, smoke tree will thrive in any situation. Water regularly while it's beginning to grow, then every ten days when it's fully developed. Smoke tree is drought-resistant and isn't fussy about pH levels of soil. Add mulch, leaving 5 inches between the mulch and the base of the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

Moderate temperatures and humidity are best for smoke tree. In high humidity, they can develop fungal diseases.


The only fertilizing smoke tree needs is a layer of compost each year. If the plant fails to thrive, add nitrogen or organic plant food to the soil, following product manufacturer's directions.


Pruning is dependent on what type of plant you want. If you want a flowering plant, limit pruning to removing dead leaves and branches. If you prefer a bushier plant, trim it back to 6 to 8 inches above the ground in late winter, which will also result in no flowers. If you want to grow a tree-shaped plant, prune it down to one center stem, and continue cutting away branches as they appear. Pruning shouldn't be done for the first two years of growth.

Potting and Repotting Smoke Tree

Smoke trees do well in containers. Loosen the root ball before replanting it in a well-draining pot. Water regularly and fully to encourage rooting and growth. Place the pot in a sunny area for the best results.

Pests and Problems

Keep smoke tree well-drained to avoid verticillium wilt, which you'll recognize if the leaves on your plant begin to turn brown. The fungi scabs and leaf spots are problems in warmer climates, while leaf canker can be an issue in cooler areas.

How to Propagate Smoke Tree

Smoke tree can be propagated by stem cuttings or seeds.

Cuttings: Stem cuttings are the most common propagation method. Cut semi-hardwood cuttings (not new growth) about 6 to 8 inches long from a leafy stem. Remove the lower leaves and strip off a little bark at the end of the cutting. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone, place it in a well-draining medium, and cover it with a plastic bag supported by wooden stakes. Keep the medium moist and put the cutting in a warm place or on a heat mat. Check every week or so to see if the cutting is forming roots, either by tugging lightly on a leaf or seeing roots in the drain hole. When the cutting roots, remove the plastic bag. Transplant the new plant to the ground or a container after it develops a robust root system.

Seed: Buy or harvest smoke tree seed. Place these tiny seeds in a bowl of warm water for 12 hours. Change the water and place them back in the bowl for another 12 hours. Drain them and wait for them to dry completely. In the meantime, prepare a germination bed in full sun with well-draining soil. Add a 2-to-3-inch layer of sand to the bed and mix it in to a depth of about 8 inches. Use your finger to push the dried smoke tree seeds about 3/8 inch into the bed, spacing them 12 inches apart. Water with a fine mist to avoid washing away the tiny seeds. It takes up to two years for smoke tree seeds to germinate.

Types of Smoke Tree

Golden Spirit smoke tree

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree

Peter Krumhardt

Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot' bears unique golden foliage that fades to lime green in summer before showing shades of orange and red in autumn. It grows 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 5-8

'Grace' smoke tree

Grace Smoke Tree

James Carriere

Cotinus 'Grace' offers rich burgundy-purple foliage in spring and summer then orange-red fall color. It grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

'Nordine' smoke tree

Nordine Smoke Tree

Better Homes and Gardens

Cotinus 'Nordine' shows off burgundy-bronze leaves that go shades of red and orange in the fall. It grows 15 feet tall and wide and is a good choice for gardeners in cold climates. Zones 5-8

'Notcutt's Variety' smoke tree

Notcutt's Variety Smoke Tree

Better Homes and Gardens

Cotinus coggygria 'Notcutt's Variety' bears wine-red foliage that turns red-orange in autumn. It grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

'Pink Champagne' smoke tree

Pink Champagne Smoke Tree

Laurie Black

Cotinus coggygria 'Pink Champagne' has green foliage with a slight mauve-pink edge. It turns shades of red and orange at the end of the season and grows 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Its name comes from the pink flowers. Zones 5-8

'Royal Purple' smoke tree

Royal Purple Smoke Tree

William N. Hopkins

Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' is a garden favorite for its red-purple foliage that turns scarlet in fall. It grows 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Zones 5-8

'Velvet Cloak' smoke tree

Velvet Cloak Smoke Tree

Andrew Drake

Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak' shows off rich, dark purple-red foliage that turns bright red in autumn. It grows 12 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

Smoke Tree Companion Plants


Snowball Viburnum
Bill Stites

Viburnum offers colorful fall foliage, spring blooms and winter interest and are useful for privacy hedges or to plant on sloping land. Zones 2-9


moonshine yarrow achillea yellow flowers
Bob Stefko

Yarrow is a classic garden perennial with tall stems of colorful flowers and fern-like foliage. Zones 3-10


Ninebark Physocarpus 'Center Glow'
Marty Baldwin

Ninebark is a green shrub with flowers and exfoliating bark. Their fast growth habit and appealing winter bark make these shrubs garden favorites. Zones 3-7

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is this plant called "smoke tree?"

    Once you've seen it in full bloom, you'll understand where Cotinus coggygria gets its common name. The flowering plant has wispy, pink blossoms that are reminiscent of smoke rising.

  • How is smoke tree used?

    It is sometimes used in making baskets, picture frames, and furniture. In the eastern Mediterranean, it's used to dye woven mats and carpets.

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  1. Cotinus coggygria. NC State Extension

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