How to Plant a Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria)

Smoketree, or Smoke tree, is a tree for all seasons. Blooms, though barely noticeable, appear in spring or early summer. The blooms are followed by dangling fruit covered with tiny hairs giving a smoky mist appearance around the branches. In the fall, the leaves turn purple. The unique bark of the tree adds visual interest in the winter. Image courtesy of Anneli Salo, Wikimedia Commons.

Smoketree can grow up to 15 feet tall and wide and is suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 4 to 9. Smoketree can be temperamental when planted. For the best success, plant a smoketree in early spring, on a cloudy day and from a pot rather than a ball and burlap wrapped tree. Carry the tree by the container and not by the trunk of the tree. Smoketree can be a little temperamental after planting. Follow these tips for better success.
  1. Choose a full sun to part shade location to plant smoketree. Consider the growth potential of the tree so the selected location is away from buildings. Also, avoid planting near a pool or pond because of the dropping, hairy fruit.
  2. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball and about 1 inch shallower than the root ball is tall. Smoketree can handle most soil conditions, so no soil amendment is needed.
  3. Remove the tree from the container and place the root ball in the center of the hole. The soil of the potted tree should be slightly above ground level. Once planted, the root ball will settle to ground level.
  4. Backfill the hole halfway using the soil pulled from the hole. Water to settle the soil. Finish backfilling the hole and water again.
  5. Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch, like wood chips or leaf mold, around the tree. Keep the mulch 2 inches away from the trunk of the tree to avoid the potential root rot. Reapply the mulch each year to retain a thick cover. The mulch will help to retain moisture and block weed and grass growth.
  6. Water regularly and deeply if there is no rainfall. Water every seven to 10 days during the first year and then every two weeks for the next 2 to 3 years as the tree becomes established.