If you want a unique and colorful tree in your garden, you should consider planting a smoke tree.
However, since these trees can reach up to 15 feet in height, they’re not always practical. A good alternative, therefore, is to plant a dwarf smoke bush instead—they grow to a maximum of six feet, without compromising on beauty—their beautiful leaves become purple-black before turning bold red and orange.
This type of small tree is easy to care for, but there are some important tips you should follow to keep its foliage looking beautiful, such as ensuring it gets lots of sunshine every day.
In this article, I’ll explore how this dwarf bush originated and what you need to know to care for it properly. I’ll also give you some tips on how to prevent common pests and diseases from attacking your shrub.
Cotinus coggygria, or smoke tree, is part of the Anacardiaceae family, which contains roughly 870 species of flowering trees, such as pistachio, mango, and poison ivy.
The smoke bush is a deciduous tree that originated in central Europe and China. It can usually grow to between 10 and 15 feet in height and width, requiring lots of landscape space.
This tree got its name because of its wispy flowers that look like puffs of smoke. After the tree flowers, during the spring, it produces clusters of filaments that also resemble smoke.
During autumn, the foliage usually becomes dark or takes on autumn colors of red and orange.
There are many popular varieties of the smoke bush tree. Examples of dwarf smoke bush varieties include the “Winecraft Black,” which has deep purple leaves that become black and then turn into brighter orange and red tones, and the “Young Lady,” which has pink flowers and leaves that turn yellow, red, and orange in autumn.
The smoke bush tree performs well in USDA plant hardiness zones 4–9. Zone 4 consists of some of the coldest areas in the U.S., such as northern New York and northern Idaho.
By comparison, Zone 9 consists of states such as Florida and Georgia, which experience mildly low temperatures that don’t usually dip below freezing.
A dwarf smoke bush requires moderate temperatures to grow correctly. It doesn’t perform well in extremely warm climates as fungal diseases can become problematic. If you live in a cold location, be careful of freezing winds that can be damaging to the shrub, and try to plant the bush in a sheltered area of your garden.
How and Where To Grow a Dwarf Smoke Bush
Below, we’ll take a look at the requirements and conditions that are needed to successfully grow a dwarf smoke bush.
Smoke trees have a slow-to-medium rate of growth. You can expect them to grow approximately 12–24 inches per year, but this depends on the soil and light conditions.
Dwarf varieties of smoke bush remain small. Their width and height will reach between three and six feet. This makes it easier to find a spot for them in your garden, even if you don’t have a lot of space.
Smoke bush needs to have loamy soil that drains well. That said, it’s not a fussy tree. It will grow in sandy and clay soils. It also performs well in both alkaline and acidic soil, which makes it easy to maintain.
Light, Water, and Fertilization
Make sure that the shrub’s soil gets full sunlight all day long as it won’t grow healthily in areas of shade
Lots of sun will keep the shrub flowering and displaying its rich colors. This will also ensure that the shrub can remain compact, which means you won’t have to prune it as regularly.
If you’re growing a smoke bush in a container, make sure that it’s placed in a sunny area of your home.
If your smoke bush is a young plant, you should water it thoroughly twice a week. Once the plant matures, you can water it once every 10 days, as it will have achieved a good amount of resistance to dry conditions. Avoid giving your smoke bush too much water as this can result in soggy soil.
If you’re growing your smoke bush in a container, it will need more regular watering. When the top inch of your bush’s soil feels dry, water it until you can see water coming out of its drainage holes.
While your smoke bush doesn’t need a lot of fertilizer, it can help to boost its growth if it’s become stagnant. You only need to apply a 5-10-10 fertilizer once to your plant. You can do this at any time of the year.
Otherwise, you should only apply fertilizer to your smoke bush if it is struggling to grow. In this case, a nitrogen fertilizer will work well to help to encourage its foliage growth.
You can grow a smoke bush by sowing its seeds during the spring.
Pour boiling water over the seeds so that they can soak for 12 hours. This serves to stratify them, which is when you simulate the warmth that the seeds would be exposed to if they were outside. Boiling water also promotes seed germination.
Then, put the seeds into a container that contains potting soil. Keep the container in an area that is exposed to approximately 60 degrees Fahrenheit, for three months. Always keep the container moist during this time.
Once the three months are up, put the container in an area of the home that is exposed to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and leave it there for another three months.
In the spring, plant the seeds in well-drained soil. Make sure they get enough water to keep their soil moist until they are established.
Dwarf smoke bushes contain fibrous roots that make them easy to put into pots.
If you want to pot a smoke bush that’s currently growing in the ground, you’ll have to follow these important steps:
- Root prune the smoke bush a few months before you want to put it into a container or pot. To do this, you’ll have to dig a 12 x 24-inch circle in the soil—about 14 inches deep—around the base of the plant.
- When you’re ready to move the plant, dig around the base of the plant and lift its root ball out of the ground.
- Place the smoke bush into a pot that’s strong and tall. It needs to be large enough for the plant’s dimensions. The pot will require drainage holes.
- Fill the pot with compost and potting soil.
- Put it in a sunny area of the home.
- Water it thoroughly as this helps the roots of the shrub to settle.
If you have a young plant that’s going straight into a pot, you’ll need to follow these tips:
- Fill a pot with a layer of stone chips. This will prevent the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot from clogging.
- Place your smoke bush on top of the stone chips.
- Fill the pot with a blend of peat moss and perlite—to encourage drainage—and some compost.
- Put it in a sunny location in your home or garden.
- Water your smoke bush whenever the top of the soil feels dry.
- Avoid planting your smoke bush in a pot that’s too large. It should only be as tall as the shrub’s width.
- Make sure you repot the shrub as it grows, to accommodate its size.
You shouldn’t prune your smoke bush too much. Reserve this for removing any injured branches on the bush. When pruning, make sure you do so late in the winter.
Your smoke bush can benefit from having two inches of mulch around its base. This has two benefits, it keeps the soil moist while preventing weeds from attacking the plant and it also provides protection against frost.
A smoke bush is susceptible to what’s known as verticillium wilt. This condition is caused by soil fungi that block the tree’s xylem, which is a tissue that transports water throughout the tree. Verticillium wilt can cause your smoke bush to wilt and its leaves to die.
Sadly, there’s nothing you can do to bring your smoke bush back to health from verticillium wilt if it’s been severely affected. If your smoke bush has only been slightly affected by this fungus, prune some of its damaged branches. Apply fertilizer and water to boost the tree’s health.
Other diseases include leaf rust and leaf spot.
This disease is caused by fungal parasites that attack plants in wet conditions. It displays raised pustules that release powdery spores underneath affected leaves.
Sadly, if your plants are affected by leaf rust, you will have to remove and destroy them. You will also have to remove any dirt and debris from between plants or shrubs to prevent rust from spreading in your garden.
You can easily prevent leaf rust. Make sure you keep your shrub’s leaves dry by watering the shrub directly onto its roots.
This is another fungal disease. It causes spots on the shrub’s leaves that can be yellow, yellow-green, orange-red, light tan, brown, or black in color. While leaf spot won’t seriously damage your trees, it’s worth reducing its effects by doing the following:
- Avoid overcrowding your plants
- Prune your smoke bush shrub to enhance its air circulation and increase how much light it receives
- Avoid wet, damp conditions by never splashing water onto leaves
Common pests that can attack your smoke bush tree include leafrollers and scale bugs.
These are small caterpillars that are approximately one inch long. They feed on the smoke bush leaves, giving them a ragged appearance.
To remove them, you should cut any leaves that have been damaged and pick the caterpillars off by hand. Check the tree again after a week to ensure you’ve removed all of them as leafrollers don’t all hatch at the same time.
These bugs feed on plant sap, stealing the plant’s nutrients. An example of a scale bug is the San Jose scale. To eliminate these bugs, you’ll need to apply an insecticide specifically formulated to treat them. Spray your smoke bush early in the spring and then again in June, as this is when the bugs are most active.
If you want to add the beauty of a smoke bush tree to your property but you’re concerned about its size, you can plant a dwarf variety instead.
In this article, we’ve provided you with all the tips you need to keep your dwarf smoke bush healthy and beautiful. If you’re interested in other dwarf plants, be sure to read our guide, “Dwarf Plants For Your Garden”.