Cotinus coggygria " The Smoke Bush"


Cotinus coggygria is an easy to grow deciduous shrub which has lovely coloured foliage and when it flowers the shrub takes on the appearance of being wreathed in smoke, which accounts for it's common name, The Smoke bush. Cotinus can be grown successfully in most soils and will tolerate partial shade, although partial shade is suitable only for the green leaved varieties, as opposed to purple and red, which require more sun. There are several varieties of the Cotinus coggygria (illustrated centre) such as 'Royal purple' image left and centre which  has lovely purple foliage.  Cotinus 'Royal purple'  with its purple leaves creates contrast in the border, as in the image right with Alchemilla mollis (Lady's mantle)  making a good border combination.

There are also varieties of Cotinus Coggygria which have red leaves, 'Flame' and 'Grace' both of which also have the RHS garden merit award. Cotinus coggygria have strong autumn colour especially 'Flame' and 'Grace'. The image left shows Cotinus planted alongside Cornus and the contrast is very attractive well worth planting as part of a shrub border. Cotinus matures into a large shrub as the image far right displays and it is best to check the label for overall size to ensure you have space in the border, although Cotinus can be pruned and quite severely if needed. It may sulk for a season before regrowth.

How to Grow Cotinus coggygria The Smoke Bush

Smoking cotinus close up

To get the greatest colour and the best smokey plumes, Cotinus needs a warm sunny spot. It will grow in partial shade and in most  garden conditions but if those conditions are shady you may have to be content with the colourful leaves and not too much smoke.  Cotinus should be pruned in late winter or early spring when still dormant to keep the framework of the shrub looking in good shape.

When choosing a Cotinus to plant in the garden it is good to bear in mind that Cotinus can grow quite large. The image above left shows a Cotinus with full smoke effect and it is a large shrub, almost a small tree. Cotinus Coggygria will grow to around 5ms, 'Flame' and 'Grace' around 6ms which size they will reach in between 10-20years. 

How to Prune Cotinus

Generally, Cotinus requires little or no pruning which makes it an easy to grow shrub. In late winter/early spring around February/March time a light prune can be undertaken if needed to remove diseased, spindly or crossing branches and then a feed is all that is required. Equally Cotinus can be left for several years with little or no attention. 

Cotinus when grown in its preferred conditions can be quite vigorous and so get large and it maybe it outgrows it allotted spot or is shadowing neighbouring shrubs and plants. In which case Cotinus can be hard pruned only if the shrub is mature  and it will tolerate being cut back hard or coppiced and this will keep it in check although at the expense of flowers. Hard pruning will also have the effect of producing larger leaves that year. Cotinus will respond well to clipping and I  have seen it to good effect clipped into a round shape, which makes a nice contrast from green topiary. Winter is the best time to prune or trim Cotinus, around February when the shrub is dormant and during a mild spell.

If Cotinus is not the ideal shrub for your garden, check out shrubs and bushesspring flowering shrubssummer flowering shrubsshrubs with autumn and winter interest; and evergreen shrubs.

Cotinus comes into leaf late in spring but the compensation is the great autumn colour. Cotinus looks good with many border plants, blue and pink Clematis, with vibrant greens, as in the image centre which is with Alchemilla mollis, and with strong blues such as Agapanthus and good with Crocosmia; and also with other garden shrubs by way of contrast as in image top left with Cornus. 

Cotinus coggygria on Greek hillside

Cotinus are fully hardy and easy to grow. The new foliage in spring looks lovely and particularly beautiful with raindrops on it. Late summer the shrub, if provided with enough warmth and sun, will flower producing the delicate smoke effect and then put on spectacular autumn colour; a great garden shrub.

Cotinus Coggygria is native to rocky habitats in the Mediterranean as I recently saw for myself driving around a mountainous area in Greece. I had to come to a stop to admire a clump of Cotinus perched on the edge of the road, growing in scrubby ground and wreathed in "Smoke". Could not resists taking the photo image left. It is always exciting seeing what we regard as a "garden shrub" growing in the wild.