Smoke Bush pruning question

freeda(z5-Chicago)June 7, 2007

Helllllooo! I've had a big ol' smoke bush for a good 10-12 years which got out of hand with dead branches, etc. I actually was thinking of yanking it completely then found out I could just cut it all the way down to the ground and get myself a brand new bush. This has worked wonderfully and I've now got a nicely forming new SB. What I'm wondering is ... can I do this every year/every other year?? I don't care about the smoke flowers, dislike that branches die out, but LOVE the color and leaf texture of this shrub. I don't want to exhaust the poor thing by having it regrow each year ... but ... could I?

Also considering one of the gold-leaf varieties ... anything special I need to know about these?


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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Smokebush, usually the purple leaf varieties, are often cut back yearly, just as you do with Buddleias and Callicarpa dichotoma. I have 'Golden Spirit', the only gold leaf one I know of, and it's a fairly narrow plant abut 8 feet tall. I've never had any die back on it, so it's certainly hardier than the purple leaf ones, which regularly experience die back here. It's very handsome, and I have Clematis rooguchi growing into it. Great combo.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2007 at 6:08AM
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Thanks, laceyvail - that's great information! And I like your idea of mixing it w/clematis.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2007 at 6:28AM
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Can I hijack with a question? Is it too late in the season (zone 5, MA) to cut back?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2007 at 9:12PM
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IME you could cut it at any time of the year.
Just did it today and brought home bouquet of purple leaves with somewhat yellowish smokes on top of them.
Looks good in a vase.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 12:38AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Yes, it's too late to cut it back this year. Cutting a few blooms is one thing, but cutting one back to a stub is another thing entirely. Cut back in early spring.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 8:40AM
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My fault, indeed shaping/pruning is OK, but cutting back to the stub is NOT. Sorry for misleading answer.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 9:48AM
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maro(z8 WA)

Please clarify: When pruning smokebush back in early spring, is it actually cut off at ground level, or just NEAR ground level. Is it cut back to 1" or 2", for example?


    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 4:26PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

My experience has been cutting it down each stem/branch down to about an inch.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 8:07PM
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Coppicing or stooling, as this practice is called, generally involves cutting back to a predetermined height, not to the ground. And is best begun while the plant in question is still quite young. Typically one has a permanent woody framework that is maintained and all thinner branches above this framework are removed at their point of origin (no stubs). The height of this framework is up to the gardener and the plant. Most often smoke bushes are maintained in the 1-3' height by coppicing and will attain an additional 6+ feet during the growing season when well established.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 10:35AM
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maro(z8 WA)

Thanks. So often I read "cut to the ground" and that sounds pretty drastic.

This is its first year after planting last fall. Next spring, I should select a permanent framework that is about 1' to 3' tall at the time, and prune to that. Is this correct?

Sorry if I'm being dense!


    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 3:46PM
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Maro, that's correct.
However, if it will be a first full growing season, I'd let it be for another year (probably will be pretty large by then in z8 with no diebacks) and did a surgery after two full years in a ground.
Just IMO.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 10:19PM
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maro(z8 WA)

Thanks for clarifying!


    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 5:10PM
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Mine had been in the ground for about 7 years, and I cut it down to the ground, really down. It took at least a couple of months to show any new growth (I feared I'd lost it) and since then has put out 'buggy whip' branches. REally not very attractive after 2 years. This year I pruned back tips to encourage some leaf growth on the lower parts of the branches.

Just a cautionary tale.

If any one has any advice or solace, it would be gratefully accepted.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 11:35PM
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HELP!!! My husband "butchered" my beautiful 20 year old smoke bush last weekend (October 29). All I have left are about 5 thick branches about 3 feet high! What will happen next spring? Will it ever grow again? Should I cut it all the way down to the ground at this point or leave it alone? It was so beautiful this past summer! I'm sick about this!

    Bookmark   November 2, 2007 at 1:50AM
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gardenscout(z6 NE RI)

Babs, It is going to wake up in the Spring and be even more beautiful than before. You'll see. But remember that it is one of the last to leaf out in the Spring. So don't give up on it too soon.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2007 at 9:10AM
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Hijacking the thread several years later -- how late in the spring do smoke bushes get leaves? I planted 4 last fall, didn't prune them, and only 2 are getting leaves right now -- and only on brand new tiny branches. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 8:13AM
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I am in zone 5b also and mine has just started to leaf out a few days ago. Mine is established also. If they were just planted last fall they are probably a little goofy still from the green house and might take awhile to leaf out. I wouldn't start to worry yet. If you see no action in another week or so you can make a small scratch on the main trunk to see if they are still alive.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 8:51PM
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I just purchased a smoke bush and planted it between a dogwood and a rhododendron. The branches are all growing very vertically. The greenhouse staff assured me that it would continue to grow vertical and tall, because of how the branches are growing upward from the core. Does anyone know if this is true?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 12:03PM
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Yes ... I've got a Royal Purple and it's inclination is to grow straight up.

I cut the branches down to about 3 foot each year for the first 3 years or so, and it's added enough branches to make a nice tree effect, but the major direction of growth is still upward.

Royal Purple doesn't do much in the way of smoke, either.

I got a Velvet Cloak Smokebush some years later, ... and it grows more laterally, and has the most amazing magenta-colored smoke.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 12:51PM
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thanks aegis500-
Mine is about two feet tall now. How high do you suspect it might grow this growing season? Do that much every year? Do I have to prune it? If I do prune it, will it branch out rather than grow tall?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 1:09PM
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Hi! Brand new to this forum, which I found by googling "smoke bush care".

I moved into my home last September, and couldn't figure out what the butt-ugly, possibly dead bush was in the side yard. It didn't do much this spring, and had almost made the decision to remove it, when it sprouted these lovely purple leaves, followed by tiny yellow flowers, and now a few smokey purplish ... things.

I remembered seeing a smoke tree at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and then googled and viola, I have a smoke bush. It is about 4' tall and 4' wide, but it does have some dead limbs and it is rather misshapen. I don't want to drastically cut it back as has been discussed upthread, but would like to prune it and shape it up a bit. I should do this in early spring, correct?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 3:20PM
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You could remove up to a third of your shrub anytime, just_jules- they are pretty forgiving plants. Start by removing all the dead branches, then take out any that are growing crossways, rubbing against others, or are just generally offensive to you. As long as you leave plenty of foliage to support the plant it will be ok.

It helps to spend a lot of time standing back and just staring at it- a chair in the shade and a cool drink can make this "study" very pleasurable. Think long and hard about any further shaping as once it's done it is done.
Try and get a plan in your mind on how you want the shrub to develop and by next spring you can do a more thorough rejuvenation pruning and have a really nice plant.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 6:19PM
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I have a smokebush that is in it's third spring. I didn't think it was going to make it the first year but it seemed to hang on and grow leaves the second spring. I haven't done anything to it since planting. It has 4 stalky looking stems with leaves on the top end and several small shoots coming out the bottom this year - Nothing in between. I would like it to be fuller in the middle. What should I do with it and when? Please help!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 1:20PM
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Grasshopper, I am in zone 5 also and mine is now 3 yrs old and was 9+' tall end of last season. They grow fast.

Maplestreetsmokebush, mine is also in its third spring and it had a similar issue. In March of this year, I pruned it down to where I wanted it to begin branching out. The new growth is filling out nicely and the leaves on the tips are a blood red. Mine has a main trunk so it is growing into a tree form and I cut any suckers that come out of the bottom so as to keep a tree form. I think if you do the same it will force the bush to put more energy above. If you don't mind a wider bush with suckers, you could prune the whole thing down closer to where the suckers are and it will grow into a fuller, wider bush.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 12:12AM
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I have a smoke bush that has been beautiful for years. This last year it was above the house top so I cut most of it down. Now it has new, beautiful growth around the bush but the middle of it looks dead. Don't know if it will fill in or not. I hate the cut the middle out but I don't know what can I do? Please help and thank you!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 6:04PM
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Oh I see no one answered your question Kreatv. Smokebush is slow to awaken in spring. If yours still looks dead in the middle, it probably is, so you can trim those dead branches out. It will regrow from the base making a thicker plant.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 1:31PM
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My first post here. I have a purple smoke bush in its third growing year. I would like to move it to my back yard and replace it with a golden smoke bush as the latter one will go much better with the neighboring plants. This season it has really taken off. The shoots are about 6 feet tall. It's now September. Can I trim these long branches back to about half that height? It's looking unkempt and I prefer a more compact shape. Also, if I'm going to transplant it to the back, can I do that in late fall? Should I trim it before or after I move it? It might be hard to move it leaving it as big as it is now. I realize flowering will be affected regardless. Please advise and thank you.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 10:40PM
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You can move it now, but DONT cut it back til March.
You must really dig a big hole to move it to, and make sure you dig alot of dirt around the roots, don't skimp, when you move it.
If you have the cultivar "Grace", don't move it.
If it is Royal Purple smoke bush, or another cultivar, go right ahead and move it now.
Mulch it up real good, and water it through the winter if it is dry, the roots will grow back over the winter.
Then you should COPPICE it in the Spring.
The general rule of thumb for pruning shrubs DOES NOT apply to a few select shrubs, smoke bush being one of them.
You must prune all the way down to the FRAME of the bush, and it will regrow like a brand new one.
Don't think you will kill it, because you wont.
The frame is the main stem and any branches that come off of it.
Smoke bush does not "like" a slight pruning.
If you don't cut it down severely like this, it will grow back with "whippy" ugly branches and that is why some people won't even grow them, thinking it is the bush, which it isn't.(they pruned it wrong).
Wait til you see the beautiful new leaves that form on that bush after a severe pruning. Gorgeous!
Look up on the internet, Coppicing AND smokebush, and you will see what I mean.
Good luck, I hope your gold one is beautiful too.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2010 at 12:01AM
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We cut back 2 of the branches on this bush/tree and now it has sent a lot of shoots with no leaves. Every time we prune them back it sends up more. Is there a way to get this to stop? It doesn't look very attractive.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:39AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

jeez jeanine.. a 5 year old post ...

why not do your own next time ... dont be shy ...

the ONLY way to get it to stop sending up shoots is to murder it ... kill it.. be done with it..

now for the zen part ... IF YOU DONT LIKE IT ... GET RID OF IT!!!

life is too short to mess around with plants that irritate you ...


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 1:39PM
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