Foundation plantings can be more interesting than the usual uniform greenery.

Is a Smoke Bush Good for Foundation Planting?

by Brian Barth

If the hedges around your home are looking overgrown and tattered, this may be the right moment to spice up the landscaping a bit. Foundation plantings are the customary shrubs planted against the outside wall of a house to conceal the foundation, soften the hard lines of the structure, and provide a transition to the landscape. Smoke bush (Cotinus coggrygria), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, adds colorful visual interest to the customary foundation greenery choices. Understanding the growth habit of smoke bush will help you choose the best variety for your home.

Striking Appearance

Smoke bush has inconspicuous flowers in spring, but for the rest of summer, plumes of ultra-fine filaments hang like clouds from the tips of the branches. These are the "smoke" to which the plant owes its name. The thread-like filaments are part of the seed structure of the plant, and will create a light, airy ambiance around your home. The foliage turns a bright yellow-orange in autumn, adding another twist of seasonal interest. Some varieties of smoke bush also have deep burgundy foliage that is a good match with popular exterior color schemes.

Growth Habit

Smoke bush will not remain a small plant unless you prune it annually. However, most of the shrubs commonly used as foundation plantings are trimmed weekly or monthly, so smoke bush is actually a very low-maintenance foundation shrub in comparison. Unpruned, a standard smoke bush will grow to 10 or 15 feet and can be shaped into a tree-like form, but pruned hard each winter, it can easily be kept to 4 or 5 feet, with the more compact and uniform growth habit of a shrub.

Colorful Varieties

Smoke bush varieties offer choices of color palettes for your landscape. The foliage and smoky plumes of "Purpureus" (Cotinus coggrygria "Purpureus") and "Black Velvet" (Cotinus coggrygria "Black Velvet") are deep purple. "Daydream" (Cotinus coggrygria "Daydream") has pink plumes and green leaves. "Grace" (Cotinus "Grace") is a hybrid smokebush with purplish-red foliage in spring that becomes almost blue in summer, and spectacular purple and pink plumes. If those are not enough color options, yet another variety, called "Ancot" (Cotinus coggrygria "Ancot"), has yellow foliage throughout the growing season.

Dwarf Varieties

Dwarf smoke bush varieties can help ease the work of pruning around the landscape. "Golden Spirit" (Cotinus coggrygria "Golden Spirit") stays under 6 feet without pruning, and can be kept as low as 3 feet if you need a short foundation plant. "Golden Spirit" also adds to the color palette with its chartreuse foliage and smoky green plumes. "Young Lady" (Cotinus coggrygria "Young Lady") has a similar stature, but it bears green leaves and pink plumes.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

Photo Credits

  • Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images