Common name: smoke bush
Grown for their vibrant foliage from spring to autumn, these large, eye-catching and easy-to-grow shrubs also produce clouds of tiny flowers in summer, to earn their name smoke bush. They add colour to shrub borders, create a bold backdrop for mixed plantings and make a dramatic specimen in a lawn.
These shrubs are prized for their richly coloured foliage, especially the purple or acid-green cultivars. The leaves are particularly vibrant in spring, and in autumn before they fall, turning shades of red and orange. Masses of tiny pinkish flowers like clouds of smoke (hence the common name, smoke bush) appear in summer. Over time they can grow quite large, but can be kept to a manageable size by annual pruning.
Grow in fertile, well-draining soil in sun or light shade. Purple-leaved plants will produce the best leaf colour in full sun.
Cotinus can struggle both in very poor, dry soil and heavy waterlogged soil. In deep shade, leaf colour and flowering will be poor.
Did you know?
For the best leaf display, and to keep plants compact, stems can be cut back hard to a low framework in late winter or early spring – see our guide to pruning for larger leaves for full details.
Buying: garden centre plants
Buying: trees and shrubs
Plants for under trees
Pruning for colourful stems or large foliage
Shrubs: pruning summer- or autumn-flowering
Woody waste: shredding and composting
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.