Answer: Pruning inappropriately can certainly cause misshapen plants, but because you describe your smoke tree as having bare branches, I wonder if the growing conditions are less than ideal. Cotinus (smoke tree) is one of those plants that seems to thrive on neglect. They are naturally shrubby plants but can be trained into a tree form. They prefer full sun and thrive in dry, rocky soils. If yours is planted in an area that gets regular moisture (such as in a lawn or flower bed), make sure the soil drains quickly or the tree will eventually die. At this point, I'd leave the tree alone, except for deep, thorough watering once each week. In the late fall or winter you can prune the branches back to force new growth between the branch tips and the trunk of your tree. You can remove some of the branches altogether and shorten others until you're happy with the shape of the tree. In the spring it should fill out by developing new leaves and new stems along the remaining branches. Best wishes with your smoke tree.
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