The secret to a great garden is to use a core of easy-care plants, with a selection of special items – that may need a little extra care – to lift the garden above the ordinary. Some new gardeners make the mistake of choosing only the rare and exotic, and others the mistake of choosing nothing but the most common and boring of plants. The Royal Purple Smoketree stands right in between those groups, and so it should literally be in every garden. This hardy, easy to grow tree is perfect for background planting, since it is both colorful for months and so easy to grow you can forget about it. It brings vibrant color, so if you have a garden of dull plants, but don’t want extra work, this bush is the perfect choice. It provides vibrant, un-fading foliage color from spring to fall, and in summer a spectacular and unique display of fluffy seed-heads that create a cloud of misty pink haze over the bush.
The Royal Purple Smoketree grows into a rounded bush upwards of 10 feet tall and at least as wide. Left to grow naturally it is a great way to fill a corner or an empty space in the garden. It can also be pruned to keep it smaller if needed, and also grown into a striking informal purple-leaved hedge or screen. The rounded leaves are 3 inches across, or even larger in pruned plants. In spring they emerge a brilliant purple-red color, and while some plants with colored leaves in spring simply turn dark green in summer, this does not happen with this bush. Over summer the leaves turn a rich plum purple, and hold that color right through fall too. In early spring, tall clusters of tiny flowers appear, but these are not very significant or exciting. What happens next certainly is. As the flowers fade, long, feathery hairs develop among the clusters, eventually turning each flower cluster into a gossamer cloud of smoky pink to purplish pink. These balls of ‘smoke’ are about 8 inches across, and they crown the bush with a dramatic and beautiful haze, lasting well into the summer months.
Choose a sunny location for your Royal Purple Smoketree, and the good news is that it will grow in almost any soil that is well-drained. It even grows better in poor soil than it does in rich, well-watered areas, so it literally thrives on neglect. The perfect plant for the busy gardener who wants color and interest, but cannot invest the time into plants needing more care. If you have the room for a larger bush, this is literally a ‘plant it and forget it’ essential for every garden. It has no significant pests or diseases, and it is normally resistant to deer too. It will grow where temperatures plunge to minus 30 and yet it thrives in the South and everywhere except Florida, southern Texas, California and warmer parts of New Mexico. Everywhere else, this has to be one of the best choices you can make for beauty and ease of care.
The Smoketree, Cotinus coggygria, is a native bush across a vast area from southern Europe to central China. It grows in open, rocky places where its smoky heads create a dramatic effect in the wilderness. The wild tree has green leaves, but in the nursery region of Boskoop, the Netherlands, at a grower called Lombarts Nursery, a plant with purple leaves was discovered. It quickly became popular and the first plants were introduced into the U.S.A. in 1953. It was given the name ‘Royal Purple’. This plant cannot be grown from seed, so avoid cheaper plants simply called smoketrees, which will not have the dramatic foliage color of this remarkable plant.
During the first growing season water your new bush regularly, to encourage a deep root system, but after that it will survive ordinary drought and will need no attention at all to thrive. If you want to control the height or spread, prune as needed in late winter or early spring. Heavy pruning will reduce flowering, but the foliage will be big, bold and beautiful, and that is the most constant and desirable feature of this plant.
We have a good supply of top-quality plants available, but such a garden staple is always in high demand with gardeners developing and improving their gardens without adding extra work. This means that supplies can quickly be reduced, so now is the time to order your trees, or you may lose out this chance to brighten your garden for months on end.