Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One of My Favorite Shrubs: Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria)

Smokebush 'Royal Purple' at a garden on the Outagamie County Master Gardeners Garden Walk in June.

Well, I have just oodles of things I need to do outside, from weeding the vegetable gardens to applying an herbicide to some poison ivy for a client, hacking back an Artic blue willow for another customer that threatens to overwhelm her patio to getting the truck jacked up so I can fix that tire.

Then there are the things I would like to do: mow my lawn, paint my windows, weed my perennial border, spend a morning learning more about daylily hybridizing with Dr. Darrel Apps.

But what is happening here in central Wisconsin? Rain. And more rain scheduled for late afternoon. If we get a break the dew point is supposed to swell to nearly 75 (very uncomfortable) and the temperatures climb to nearly 90; which makes those late afternoon storms possibly strong, with possible hail and strong wind sheer.


I bet you can tell I am really excited.


Right now the rain is coming down in sheets. I don't have to even look for a puddle or how it hits the street to tell it IS raining!

So plans have changed. I'll probably clean my house. That never ends, always a good raining day plan. Maybe I'll cook something interesting. I do need to source some oxblood red poly resin pots, follow up on some paint colors for a client, and draw a plan for a dry stream bed, so those things will probably move to the top of my hit list.

On a horticultural note I thought I would share some pictures of one of my favorite shrubs, the smoke bush. Mine is in all its glory the last couple weeks.

My smokebush 'Nordine' flanked by garden phlox last week.

'Golden Spirit' at Olbrich Garden entrance, left foreground. Remind me never to allow my 'Golden Spirit' to flower!

'Smokebush 'Golden Spirit'

Pretty panicles on 'Nordine'.

Although there are native green smokebushes we are at the very edge here of the zone for the deep burgundy-colored ones. According to the Morton Arboretum, 'Nordine' is the most northernly hardy of these. In Outagamie County, they are just that much closer to the lakes (Michigan and Winnebago)to be able to make the 'Royal Purple' a winner. It has a bit more intense color.

In Britain, I have heard the gardeners largely forego the panicles in order to keep the bush a more manageable size and encourage its bright burgundy color, and cut it to the ground each fall. Here in central Wisconsin, it is fairly late to leaf out (June) and I prune out the dead tips and branches after I can tell where it is growing out from. Sometime in mid-summer I prune for shape. The result is nice growing tip color, a tighter more compact form, and a healthy number of the "smokey" panicles.


  1. why do you say"remind me to not let the Golden Spirit flower"?
    I am looking into getting a Golden Spirit, and am concerned by your comment,
    Happy Gardener

    1. I didn't find the flowering of the Golden Spirit at Olbrich particularly pretty. Cutting smokebushes to the ground intensifies the foliage color and keeps the form more compact. I have seen some topping out at 30 or more feet.

  2. When reading about the 'Golden Spirit' the size has been stated 10h x 8w. I will continue to research. Thank you for your help.
    happy gardener

  3. I have a pretty one in a sort of difficult spot and it is about four years old, looks nice and is 4'h x 3'w, at this time. I don't think I have seen one bigger anywhere, so far. The one at the entrance to Olbrich is probably better cared for and a year or two older (and a zone warmer). I haven't been there this year. You might attempt looking for images of it. I think is is the oldest in a landscape I know.

    1. There are different forms of chlorophyll in the smokes obviously. The native is green and is more a tree than anything. I have seen some purple varieties "let go" achieve tree proportions as well. I would think, because the coloring, the Golden Spirit might more easily become tree-like. Prune, prune, prune!