Wherever it is planted, smokebush always commands attention because of its unusual airy, rounded flower plumes, which resemble puffs of purple smoke. Here are some low-maintenance tips for growing smokebush.
Some beginner’s tips
When allowed to follow its natural inclinations, this unusual shrub grows into a 4.5-metre-tall (15-foot-tall) tree, hence the confusion between its common names of smokebush and smoke tree.
- But even in its treelike form, smokebush is small enough to fit in with other large shrubs or to serve as a focal point in the lawn, at the corner of a house or near a driveway or walkway.
- These plumes appear in summer and persist until fall.
Expert tips for growing smokebush
- While smokebush tolerates sites with some shade, growing it in full sun deepens the leaf colours, which provides a beautiful frame for the fluffy flower panicles. So select a site where the shrub will get plenty of light.
- Set out new plants in early spring and provide water during droughts the first season after planting.
- Because smokebush has fast-growing, fibrous roots, it becomes established quickly and is soon very drought tolerant.
- These plants of any age rarely have pest problems and require no special care beyond a light application of fertilizer every spring.
- Use an organic or timed-release, balanced fertilizer applied at half strength according to package directions.
- Smokebush prefers a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8, and leaf colour will be poor if it grows in overly fertile or very acidic soil. If necessary, neutralize the soil with garden lime in fall, applied per package directions.
- When grown as a shrub, smokebush needs little pruning. Prune only to remove damaged wood or to shape the plant in spring. Aggressive pruning results in long, unattractive, poor-flowering branches. You can keep shrubs compact and short by pruning back to 15 centimetres (six inches) every two to three years. This treatment turns smokebush into a leafy, rounded shrub.
- Flowering will be sparse, but no other shrub can equal its purple foliage.
Different types of smokebush you should know
The species has green leaves that are often tinged pinkish bronze when young, feature a red midrib and edges through the summer and turn yellow and red in fall. The 25-centimetre-long (10-inch-long) flower plumes are tawny green and so profuse that the shrub’s leaves are barely visible.
- As beautiful as the species is, many gardeners prefer purple-leaved cultivars, such as ‘Velvet Cloak’, ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Purpureus’.
- The Rubrifolius group includes a variety of plants whose leaf colour ranges from claret to plum. The flowers for all of them are a smoky pinkish purple and the leaves turn red in autumn.You can spotlight the dark leaves by pairing smokebush with high-contrast companions, such as Russian sage, artemisia or other plants with gray foliage.
- Plants with golden leaves or pink flowers will also intensify smokebush. A particularly striking combination is smokebush underplanted with coleus and New Guinea impatiens that exhibit shades of purple, chartreuse and pink.
Growing and maintaining smokebush might be easier than you think. Keep these tips in mind and get started today!