The Q&A Archives: Pruning Smoke Trees

Question: I have three Royal Purple smoke trees that I want to grow tall but not too wide. When and how should I prune them? Any other suggestions?

Answer: Smoke Trees (Cotinus coggygria) can grow to 25 feet if given fast drainage and drought-like conditions in the summer time. Its nature is to grow shrubby, about as wide as it is tall. You can control the growth by pruning selectively, but you should expect to contain the height, as well as the width, or you'll end up with a peculiar looking plant. Since the purple puffs grow at the ends of the branches, wait until the blossoms fade and then prune back one-third to one-half of the new growth. You'll still get new leaves and flowers, but at a slower rate than if you let it grow naturally. If the mature size of the plants are a concern, you might think about relocating them to an area where they can grow to their full potential without constant attention. Be sure to choose a sunny site with excellent drainage, and stress the plants a bit by withholding water in the summer to force the purple leaf color and production of puffs.

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