Cotinus is famously known as the ‘smoke bush’, for its hazy plumes of soft pink, summer flowers that really do resemble clouds of soft smoke. However, it’s the oval-shaped foliage of these shrubs that makes a really dramatic statement. There’s a range of cultivars with leaf colour ranging from green through to purple, and they all share characteristically brilliant autumn colouring, with a fiery display of yellow, red and deep scarlet. Smoke bushes are mostly quite large shrubs or small trees, but there are small cultivars available.
Where to grow cotinus
All cotinus varieties need well-drained, fertile soil and a spot in a border in full sun or partial shade.
How to plant cotinus
Plant pot-grown cotinus in autumn, adding a generous spadeful of well-rotted manure to the planting hole.
How to propagate cotinus
Propagate cotinus with softwood cuttings, taken in summer.
Growing cotinus: problem solving
Cotinus are generally not plagued by pests and diseases – they can succumb to verticillium wilt, a fungal disease borne in the soil, which can cause dieback and affects the foliage. If your cotinus is affected, it’s hard to treat and the best approach is to remove and destroy the plant, taking care not to disturb the soil too much as this can spread the fungus. Don’t replant cotinus in the same spot.
How to care for your cotinus
Cotinus are easy shrubs to care for. They don’t need much pruning, but if you want to encourage bushy new growth with larger than average leaves, cut the stems back hard in early spring. Add a generous helping of well-rotted manure or leaf mould after pruning – but even if you don’t prune hard, they will also benefit from a good spring feed.
Cotinus varieties to try
- Cotinus ‘Grace’ – this classic smoke bush has purple leaves that put on a spectacular show in autumn as they change colour to orangey red. It has a mass of purple-pink frothy flowers in summer. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
- Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’ – the deep purple leaves turn brilliant red-orange before dropping in autumn.
- Cotinus coggygria ‘Young lady’ – this slow-growing, dwarf variety has huge plumes of smokey-pink flowers and dark green leaves in summer. The leaves turn red and orange in autumn. It’s a good choice for smaller gardens.
- Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ – this is an unusual golden-leaved cultivar. The Young foliage is yellow with hints of red, turning fiery orange in autumn. The flowers appearing in June and July are a smoky yellow.
- Cotinus ‘Candy Floss’ – this large shrub has bronzey young leaves, turning green in summer and shades of yellow, orange, and purple in autumn. Large fluffy pink flower plumes appear in summer.
- Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ – this large shrub puts on a great show with the deep purple leaves turning rich red in autumn. The fluffy pink plumes in summer really do look like clouds of smoke. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).