Cotinus damage, weird spring- need advice!

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

It has become clear that a venerable Cotinus has lost some major limbs. There are 2 main trunks, and the smaller one on the right only has leaves halfway up. The other one has lost a couple of large branches and several small ones. I know some people cut them back hard to stimulate bushy and colorful new growth. Would it work if we cut everything back to the same height? Or is that too drastic for an older tree? Or too late in the season? Should we just take off what looks dead?

The picture is from last summer. I can post a new one of the damage tomorrow.

Please help!

Thanks, Pam

Thumbnail by Pfg
(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Here's the tree now. Can I lop off all the branches to the low tufts of leaves so that the three main trunks form an arc? Or should I just prune out the deadwood and not worry too much about the shape until next spring :( ? Or something else?

I came into this very old garden five years ago, and have learned so much on DG as I try to reresurrect and renew it. I love this tree! Any comments and advice will be greatly appreciated!



Thumbnail by Pfg
Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

That poor plant looks pretty rough, compared to last year. If it was mine, I'd give it the basal pruning and look for new sprouts to retrain a large shrub/small tree form. There are many folks who do this rather frequently with the colorfully foliaged types.

Without close inspection, I can't hazard a guess at exactly what the problem is/was. Verticillium wilt can affect this species. There are likely some insects that could cause damage. Odd weather (late frosts or freezes) after the plant is leafing out can create havoc. You could always take a chunk of plant to your Cooperative Extension Service office for diagnostics, if you want proof of the problem.

Because the European Smoke Tree is so widely available and so vigorous in growth, I'd not hold back on whatever you choose to do. If you do have tests done - and find out that it was disease rather than something else - then don't plant a new one back in the same spot.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Thanks for responding. Spring here was unseasonably warm through March. Then we had snow March 31, and temps in the low 30's for a couple of weeks. I guess that's what did it. We also lost a Laurel, and we won't be getting any apples this year from a wonderful big old tree outside the kitchen door, the blossoms froze. Most everything else did very well, so it took me a while to realize that it wasn't just a case of the tree leafing out late. By this week the new growth is so vigorous and healthy it's obvious that the bare branches are dead.

I will cut it back, and see what happens next.

Thanks again,


(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Last weekend was killer hot, in the 90's, so I didn't get to everything. I asked our garden helper to do it, but he spent so much time on the euonymus Alata he didn't get to it either. By this weekend it had started to bloom so I didn't have the heart to really whack it down, just tried to balance it some.

Somehow I didn't realize how much of an angle it had been growing at until I went to cut it back. When I'm in the garden I'm usually working on the beds and focusing on the flowers. From the house, where its contribution to the big picture can be best appreciated, it looks fine. It will be interesting to see how it fills in over this summer. I'm thinking that next spring I may end up cutting it back to 3' or so and let it start over. It's good to know that it comes back so quickly and vigorously.

Thanks for the advice... I needed an OK and a nudge...


Thumbnail by Pfg Thumbnail by Pfg
Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

I have a purple leafed cotinus coggyria (can't remember which variety) which I've regularly coppiced every spring for years. To just a couple inches from the ground. It's in a space where there's no room for a full sized tree. It regrows vigorously. It keeps it shrubby and looks great next planted alongside some gold-leafed hypericum calcycinum Brigadoon at it's base (pictured).
So if your tree's current form is discombobulated you can chop away to your heart's content next late winter and give it another chance to shape up and fly right.

Thumbnail by Weerobin
Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

I had the same issue a few years back with a Royal Velvet smokebush - several dead branches. I gave it a major chop and it not only survived but thrived, sometimes with an awkward shape, but as I think you realize, it can be corrected with some supplementary chopping.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Thanks! I just needed help getting up the nerve... I'm used to seeing it there, would really have missed it if it had been damaged beyond recovery. I see now that I needn't have worried. It's my favorite kind of plant, tough as nails!


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