Smoke Tree In Pots: Tips For Growing Smoke Trees In Containers

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Smoke tree (Cotinus spp.) is a unique, colorful tree-shrub named for the cloud-like appearance created by long, fuzzy, thread-like filaments that emerge on small blooms throughout the summer. Smoke tree also displays interesting bark and colorful foliage that ranges from purple to blue-green, depending on the variety.

Can you grow smoke tree in a container? Smoke tree is suitable for growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. This means you can grow smoke tree in a container if your climate isn’t too cold – or too hot. Read on for more information about growing smoke tree in pots.

How to Grow Smoke Tree in a Container

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Growing smoke trees in containers isn’t difficult, but there are a few important things to keep in mind. The type and quality of the container is of primary importance because smoke tree reaches mature heights of 10 to 15 feet. Don’t cut costs here; a cheap, lightweight container is likely to tip over as the tree gains height. Look for a sturdy container with at least one drainage hole. If you want to add more stability, place a thin layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot. Gravel will also prevent potting soil from clogging the drainage holes.

Don’t plant a small tree in a huge pot, or the roots may rot. Use an appropriately sized pot, then repot as the tree grows. A pot that is approximately as tall as it is wide will offer the roots the best protection in winter.

Fill the container to within a few inches of the rim with a potting mix consisting of equal parts coarse sand, commercial potting mix and good quality topsoil or soil-based compost.

Plant the tree in the pot at the same depth the tree was planted in the nursery container – or about ½ inch below the top rim of the pot. You may need to adjust the soil to bring the tree to the proper level. Fill in around the roots with the soil mix, and then water well.

Smoke Tree Container Care

Container grown smoke trees require water more frequently than in-ground trees, but the tree shouldn’t be overwatered. As a general rule, water only when the top inch or so of soil feels dry, then let a hose run at the base of the plant until water runs through the drainage hole.

Smoke trees tolerate light shade, but full sunlight brings out the colors in the foliage.

Don’t bother fertilizing or pruning container grown smoke trees for the first two or three years. After that time, you can trim the tree to the desired shape while the tree is still dormant in late winter or early spring.

Place the smoke tree in a protected area during the winter months. If necessary, wrap the pot with an insulating blanket to protect the roots during cold snaps.

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