Anyone who has cultivated a smoke bush in the garden also has to deal with the right cut. There are a variety of options and times, which are explained in the following instructions.

build-up cut

The pruning is always necessary when the smoke tree ( Cotinus coggygria ) was not cultivated as a solitary plant with a lot of space, but was planted in a group with other ornamental trees. In the build-up cut, controlled growth should take place using a few skeletal shoots according to the following instructions:

  • suitable time, spring in the 2nd year
  • Select 5 – 7 strong ground shoots
  • are required for scaffolding
  • remove weak and superfluous ground shoots at base
  • Do not cut selected scaffold shoots
  • do not cut the shoot tips
  • this is where fruit and inflorescences form

If different side branches are in the way, then you should remove the weakest side shoots here. In this way, the shrub is slimmed down, but the natural shape is not affected.

Note: The pruning is intended to curb the willow bush’s natural urge to spread a little right from the start. If the build-up cut is therefore carried out correctly, there are fewer down-lying foothills.

thinning cut

The thinning cut is the cut that should be carried out most frequently on the smoke bush. The thinning cut concentrates on the removal of dead branches and unfavorable growing shoots. This is to ensure loose and airy growth in a shrub cultivated as a solitaire.

  • Pruning takes place every two to three years in late winter
  • wait for a frost-free day
  • cut in early spring at the latest
  • remove all dead shoots
  • Remove shoots that grow criss-cross inside
  • transfer overhanging shoots to vertical shoots
  • Remove branches rooted in the ground
  • Leave upright shoots
  • these are usually the annual shoots

Since a smoke bush develops its new leaves very late in May, some shoots can look like dead wood, but are still vital. So that you don’t cut off any vital shoots, you can scrape off a little of the bark on the branch. If green or light-colored tissue appears, the wood is not dead and the shoot should remain on the bush.

Note: When thinning out, the main thing that matters is how much deadwood there is in the bush itself. Therefore, if necessary, the pruning can also be carried out every year. This is entirely at your discretion.


The luminous leaf decoration can be promoted by the topiary. Different varieties of the wig bush not only show a decorative flower but also beautifully colored decorative leaves in black-red or yellow-gold. The coloring is all the more intense the younger the leaves are. By pruning in spring according to the following instructions, you can achieve even more intensive growth of the new leaves:

  • Time every year in late spring
  • cut back all shoots to 30 cm to 100 cm
  • capping over an outward facing eye
  • Cut back old scaffold shoots from the 5th year
  • choose the two to three oldest shoots
  • also remove older shoots

After St. John’s Day on June 24th, a second topiary can be done, during which this year’s growth in shoots should be cut back. The second leaf shoot in autumn can provide a colorful spectacle until the end of the year. However, this second cut destroys the fruit stands in autumn.

Tip: The varieties ‘Royal Purple’ or ‘Golden Spirit’ belong to the beautiful foliage shrubs. Inquire when buying whether it would be worth pruning your willow tree to form the decorative leaves.


A pruning is always important when the willow tree gets a new place. Because the shrub has a heart root system, with which it goes in width and in depth. If it is moved to another location after a few years, the shrub often finds it difficult to root well here. Therefore, a conversion should only take place in the first five years. The pruning should help to ensure that the change of location succeeds:

  • cut back all shoots
  • about a third to a half
  • Always start the cut over a sleeping eye
  • Balance should be established for underground growth
Idea: Tie yourself a beautiful dry bouquet from the flowering branches in autumn. You can cut the most beautiful shoots without hesitation and tie them together into a bouquet and hang them upside down to dry.

taper cut

As with other trees, a rejuvenation cut is sometimes necessary with an older smoke tree. Especially when you have not cut or thinned out for years, new shoots often no longer form. The bush is slowly wilting from the inside as the branches shade each other. In such a case, leaf and fruit decorations also decrease. With the rejuvenation cut, you should therefore proceed boldly according to the instructions:

  • Saw off any dead shoots at the base
  • divert senile shoots to young side shoots
  • select young ground shoots as new trellis shoots
  • leave the number you want
  • Cut off weak and superfluous ground shoots
  • right time for this late winter

According to the Nature Conservation Act, radical cuts on trees and shrubs may only be carried out between October 1st and March 1st. This ensures that no nesting birds can be disturbed.

Note: Deriving a shoot means avoiding uncontrolled growth at the cutting point. When deriving, you should start the saw or scissors where the old and young shoots branch out. In this way, after the old shoot has been pruned, the growth force is diverted to the new branch.

Appropriate tool

Every cut of a tree also requires the right tool. Regardless of which equipment you use, make sure that the cut surfaces are absolutely clean. Disinfection before each cut is also recommended so that no bacteria, viruses or fungi can still adhere and thus get into the wood via the cut and damage it. Disinfect the tools with appropriate products from specialist shops or pure alcohol from the pharmacy. You should use the following tool to cut a smoke bush:

  • Pruning saw for thicker branches
  • Pruning shears for thinner shoots
  • Rose or secateurs for very thin shoots

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