Every Blooming Thing

This is one of the Smoke Bushes growing in Red Bluff Garden Club member Colette Inman Bauer’s garden adding bright color and texture to the landscape.

Smoke Bush? The very name certainly does not conjure up thoughts of pleasure. You probably wrinkle up your nose at the thought of a smoke bush. To the contrary, the smoke bush has a wonderful odor – especially when you cut into the branches. The wood gives off a sweet spicy smell. Because of this wonderful odor, the smoke bush is the one deciduous plant that I look forward to pruning every winter.

Speaking of pruning, every year I prune my 20 foot tall smoke bush down to about six feet. Every year my friend Cathy says I have killed it, and every year it reaches the height of 20 feet and the width of 15 feet. This is the smoke tree I planted in my landscape, so this pattern has continued for 12 years. We will see what happens in its 13th year.

The smoke bush gets its name because of the smoky appearance that develops around its small, new, green blooms. The fluffy flower heads resemble a cloud of smoke hovering over the plant. The “smoke” can be purple, pink, yellow or buff depending on the color of your bush and how long the bloom has been there. This feathery “smoke” is very striking, especially as a contrast against the green of most of your garden plants.

The smoke bush (Cotinus) can be pruned into a tree. The bush has many branches but can be pruned to only one – thus the tree. Both the bush and the tree will have a stunning presence in your landscape. I presently have four smoke bushes. Two of my smoke bushes are deep purple and retain that color until autumn when the leaves fall. My favorite smoke bush is lime green and features a light pink “smoke”. Its leaves turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. The fourth smoke bush has an orange cast and the leaves do turn orange in the fall. I plan on adding another lime green smoke bush this fall.

The smoke bush is deciduous and flourishes in zones 2 to 24. It prefers dry, even rocky infertile soil (which I am only too happy to provide). The one danger to your smoke bush is the development of verticillium wilt. This is most likely to occur if you have good soil without good drainage. Verticillium wilt can destroy your smoke bush.

Another problem I discovered happened this spring during a wind storm. The wind hit the young leafy branches twisting them downward. This situation required additional pruning. The good news is that the smoke bush still reached its height of 20 feet tall.

If you are looking for a plant that will add color, interest, and beauty to your landscape, consider the smoke bush. It requires little effort other than pruning. It does best with moderate watering. The smoke bushes’ texture and its frilly appearance adds character to the garden.

The Red Bluff Garden Club is affiliated with the Cascade District Garden Club; California Garden Clubs, Inc; Pacific Region Garden Clubs and Natural Garden Clubs Inc. 

 

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