How to Prune a Purple Smoke Tree

Cotinus coggygria  can be grown into trees or bushes with proper pruning.
Cotinus coggygria can be grown into trees or bushes with proper pruning. (Image: smoke tree image by Gail Ranney from

Purple smoke trees, scientifically known as Cotinus coggygria, are part of the Anacardiaceae family that prefers an acidic soil for growth. Smoke trees are known for growing tiny flowering buds that give a smoky appearance. Large groupings of tiny flowering buds create the fuzzy appearance in shades of purple, white and pink. Some species of the purple smoke tree also produce deep violet foliage. Like most trees, the smoke tree needs to be periodically pruned to maintain a healthy frame and to prevent the tree from growing into a bush.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Marker pen

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Choose either late February or early March to prune your purple smoke tree after a year to two years has passed to allow the tree to fully establish. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, early spring or late winter is ideal for pruning before the tree begins active growth of foliage.

Pick the thickest and straightest tree shoot for developing your smoke tree. You will notice that your smoke tree has several shoots that are developing from the root base.

Remove all of the excessive shoots from the root base with pruning shears. Cut the shoots 1/2 inch away from the root base.

Remove the bottom 2/3 of branches from the smoke tree shoot using the pruning shears so that it resembles a tree.

Identify any dead branches for removal. Look for branches on your purple smoke tree that are dry and brittle. Branches that are dead will also be light gray in coloring.

Take a black marker pen and mark each dead branch on your purple smoke tree for pruning.

Remove the dead branches, using pruning shears, by cutting 1/2 inch from the tree’s trunk at a slanted angle.

Tips & Warnings

  • Allow the trunk to grow to the height that you desire before pruning further. However, prune dead branches yearly in early spring to maintain proper health of the smoke tree.


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