Good trees for urban gardens: Low-maintenance Smoketree ideal for small places

We continue our series highlighting trees that work for gardens in Edmonds. It’s presented by Master Gardener Barbara Chase, who serves on the Edmonds Tree Board.

As our early summer flowering trees are fading away the Smoketree (cotinus coggygria) begins to make its presence known. Small, nearly invisible flowers precede the “smoke.” Clouds of tan or pinkish hairs cover the developing seeds as flowers fade. The tree appears to be floating in haze.

The Smoketree continues to have a place in the garden in the fall as the different varieties change to brilliant fall color. “Royal Purple,” one of the most popular varieties, has purple-blue leaves, which turn a deep red in the fall.

Cotinus is a good tree for small places. They rarely grow more than 15 feet. They will thrive in hot, dry places. Cotinus coggygria has several varieties — in addition to “Royal Purple,” they include “Pink Champagne” — with colors changing through the season in reddish purple tones and in red-yellow mixtures. “Grace” is a cross between cotinus coggygria and cotinus obovatus. It has beautiful fall color in dark orange tones.

They are rarely susceptible to diseases and are tough trees — a good choice for gardeners who do not want to spray and like low maintenance. Pruning to shape them is the main task.

Cotinus, once established, doesn’t need water or fertilizer. This is a very good choice if you have a dry place in your garden where other plants wither away. It can be a good choice for a rockery. A very easy plant, Smoketree’s lack of pests or diseases make it a good choice for the busy gardener.



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