Column by Gary Church: Velvet Fog puts the smoke back in the smokebush

Seedheads on the Velvet Fog smokebush get long fuzzy hairs resembling smoke. 

Don’t you hate it when you buy something, and it doesn’t do what it was suppose to do?

I’m having that problem with a smokebush (Cotinus coggygria), which I purchased while working at Weingartner’s. My dilemma is – it doesn’t smoke. It has pretty burgundy foliage, but I bought it to watch it smoke and it doesn’t. Later in life, I learned that the variety I purchased was like Half and Half chewing tobacco, it’s smokeless.

New this year from Proven Winners is a smokebush that is supposed to out smoke any other smokebush. The new variety is named Velvet Fog.

Velvet Fog was bred by Tim Woods of Spring Meadows Nursery. I’ve had my photo taken with him. He’s not as tall as I am.

Tim says, “Velvet Fog produces more smoke than a Kiss concert.” I’ve never been to a Kiss concert, so I will have to take his word for it. If he would have mentioned Merle Haggard, I might have been able to relate better. I think my smokebush resembles Merle’s concert more than a Kiss concert.

Velvet Fog produces big, showy, smokey seedheads during the summer, which get long, fuzzy hairs resembling smoke. The plumes are reddish pink, and the foliage is blue green.

Smokebush blooms on old wood, so you don’t want to trim it much. A branch or two to shape it is okay, but avoid regular pruning.

The bush will get 5 to 8 feet tall, and spread 6 feet. It won’t be bothered by deer, just in case Santa parks his sleigh by it while delivering your presents.

There are several names for smokebush. It may be called smoke bush, smoke tree, or Scotch broom. They say the bush is shaped like a broom, but I’ve never noticed that. Maybe brooms look different in Scotland.

They prefer growing in full sun, but will take light shade. I haven’t had to water mine in the past 20 years, but you may need to until they get established.

Salt doesn’t bother the plant, so it can be planted close to the highway, or near a sidewalk that gets salted a lot.

This past week, I’ve had to apply quite a lot of salt to my driveway and sidewalk, which may cause some damage to my plants. I can replace the plants, but if I would slip and fall, I’d have to lay there until spring unless someone in the neighborhood had a crane. I’ll take my chance on the salt.

I normally purchase my salt from Giant Eagle, but they were out when I needed it. Someone suggested Agway, and I was impressed with their service. When I pulled in, there were two guys standing by the pallet of salt, and they loaded it into my car for me. I would have been more impressed if they would have come home with me and spread it, but that didn’t happen.

Spring is on the way, and you may be thinking about what to plant. Proven Winners says the Velvet Fog will be available at better garden centers this spring. So if your garden center is crappy, they may not have it. It can be ordered from a catalog, but when you get it, it will be quite small and take a few years to grow.

I’m ready for spring. My wife usually puts my shorts away during the winter, and I never find them until mid-July. This year I faked her out, and have one pair on the couch in my office, which will be ready to put on the first warm day. That is, of course, if they still fit.

Make your space a green space.

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