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How to Grow: Smokebush
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Early summer with yellow flowers and cream, pink to purple colored plumes
Mature Height x Spread
12 to 15 feet x 10 to 12 feet
attracts beneficials, fall color, drought tolerant, deer resistant
Smokebush is a large deciduous shrub with attractive oval leaves that are green or burgundy depending on the variety. This is a specimen shrub in the landscape or can be used in a hedgerow. The common name refers to the plume-like hairs, which look like cotton candy, and erupt from the small yellow flowers. I know gardeners who swear the whole bush looks like it’s engulfed in smoke when in full bloom. These plumes can last for weeks and actually darken in color over time. The shrub is easy to grow, adapted to many soil and weather conditions and it particularly does well in hot, dry soils. Some varieties also features attractive orange fall colored leaves.
When, Where and How to Plant
Smokebush are hardy to zone 4 when planted in a protected location. Purchase plants from a local garden center and plant from spring to early fall in well-drained soil. Smokebushes aren’t fussy about the soil type or fertility as long as it’s well drained. Space plants 12 to 15 feet apart.
Water young smokebush plants well. Once established smokebushes are drought tolerant. Mulch with wood chips or bark mulch to keep weeds away and soil moist. Fertilize in spring with a layer of compost. If the shrub isn’t growing strongly, add some organic plant food annually.
Regional Advice and Care
Prune in spring to rejuvenate the shrub, bring in back into bounds or remove any winter injured branches. Prune anytime to remove dead, diseased, and broken branches. Some gardeners consider the flowers messy and not that attractive. If you want just the colorful foliage, prune smokebushes heavily in spring to remove flowering wood. Smokebushes are mostly trouble free shrubs. However, they can die back due to wilt diseases if grown on poorly drained soils.
Companion Planting and Design
Since smokebushes grow into large shrubs, care should be given about where they are planted. Plant on the corner of a building or along a windowless structure, such as a garage, so there’s room for the bush to grow and not block a view from a window. In a mixed shrub hedgerow, plant smokebush as a “smoke” screen with other large shrubs that bloom earlier in the season, such as lilac, viburnum and spirea. Smokebush can tolerate dry, poor soil conditions where other shrubs might struggle.
‘Daydream’ grows 10 feet tall and wide with dense, creamy-white blooms. ‘Nordine’ is a purple-leafed version that’s very hardy and has yellow-orange, fall foliage color. ‘Royal Purple’ has purple colored foliage and plumes, but isn’t as hardy as ‘Nordine’. ‘Velvet Cloak’ is another purple leafed variety with good fall color. ‘Golden Spirit’ produces light golden foliage that fades to lime green in summer and orange-red in fall.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.