Back when I was a student in England, one of my professors told me, "You don’t need to underestimate the power of a single focal point in the garden and you can achieve that through interesting ornamental trees." One such tree is the European smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria). The reason it’s called a smoke tree is the ethereal panicles of blooms that resemble puffs of smoke. The variety ‘Royal Purple’ has incredible foliage that stays a maroon throughout the summer and then in the fall it transforms to reds and yellows and really bright scarlet. It’s a fantastic tree; one of my favorites.

Smoke trees respond well to pruning. Cutting it back to 1 to 2 feet in spring, before the leaves emerge, results in a large, leafy shrub by the end of summer. For those who would like to grow it as a small tree, all you need to do is tidy it up by removing gangly limbs and cross branches.

Once the plant becomes established, be careful to not over water. They like it on the dry side. As far as feeding goes, a side dressing of compost in fall is sufficient.

In cold climates it is not unusual for the plant to die back to the ground and then come back in spring.