The surprising and abundant blooming of the Cotinus tree brings a touch of hazy light and volume to your garden, both when planted as a standalone and in a shrub bed.
Cotinus key facts :
Botanical name – Cotinus sp.
Common name – smoke tree
Family – Anacardiaceae
Type – tall shrub or short tree
Bearing – round
Height – 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 m)
Breadth – 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – any type, as long as well drained
Growth – rather fast
Foliage – deciduous
Short presentation of Cotinus
The entire botanical genus for Cotinus stands out for more than one reason. Its leaves, first and foremost, have a typical oval shape, and their colors change dramatically as seasons come and go, each species in its own way. You can thus choose between green and deep purple in spring, which then shifts to yellow-orange as fall comes near.
Flowers, secondly, are simply astounding: they’re clustered in bright silky plumes that are light pink to deep purple in color.
The rather large size it reaches hint at its preferred planting situation: directly in the ground in the garden. Nonetheless, since it also copes well with severe pruning, it’s also possible to plant it in a pot.
- It’s possible to plant Cotinus at the beginning of spring (end of February – March) or fall (September to November).
Cotinus in the ground:
- Dig a planting hole that’s more on the large and deep side.
- Enhance drainage in the soil with additional sand, or even gravel, to line the bottom of the hole.
- Remove the pot from the shrub, and pry a few roots out from the clump.
- Settle the shrub in the hole, and backfill, pressing the soil down firmly as you do so (watch out: don’t bury the root collar).
- Water abundantly the first time.
Cotinus in pots:
- Get your hands on a voluminous pot and check for presence of drainage holes.
- Along the bottom of the pot, add a layer of drainage, without plugging the drainage holes though. Possible drainage materials include clay pebbles, gravel or pebbles, and broken pot shards.
- Mix 2/3 soil mix with 1/3 sand and plant your Cotinus in this substrate, pressing the soil well against the clump.
Caring for Cotinus
During the first few years of growing, pay attention to watering, especially during droughts. When it has properly settled in, the shrub can cope with lack of water on its own.
You must prune at the end of winter. Also remove dead branches and those that always get in your way.
If your Cotinus gets too large for your garden, it helps to know that you can cut it back hard.
Diseases and pests:
Very resistant, your Cotinus isn’t vulnerable to diseases. It also doesn’t seem to attract parasites and pests.
This variety is particularly interesting, especially thanks to its purple-leaved cultivars such as the ‘Rubrifolius’ (deep purple with silvery overtones) and ‘Grace’ (light purple). The most famous is Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ which has red-rimmed leaves.
- The ‘Grace’ is the one shown in the first picture of this article, above.
Similar enough to its cousin C. coggygria, C. obovatus is different in that it grows taller: it reaches heights of 30 feet (10 m).
Landscaping uses and companion plants
Have fun pairing it with other purple-colored plants, creating a beautiful camaieu in your garden with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea’ or ‘Harlequin’.