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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - April 21, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Wilting American Smoke Tree in Texas
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I planted a young American smoke tree last fall (mid-November) and it put out a good show of tentative new leaves this spring. Then to keep the tree form I clipped some little shrubby start ups at the base, sealing them with Spectracide pruning seal, and we got a hard frost that night. The next morning all the leaves were wilted. I've given it two weeks and it has not recovered. It still has juice in the veins but is not as green as I expected. Did I kill my tree?

ANSWER:

Cotinus obovatus (American smoke tree) are interesting shrubs (or trees if trained this way). The leaves are attractive, but it is the flowers and fruit clusters that look like masses of smoke that really attract attention. I don’t think the pruning and subsequent use of pruning sealant has affected your plant. More likely it wilted because of the freezing temperature that happened the night afterward. Since it is not dropping its leaves, the stems and buds are still fine. The leaves just took a cold temperature hit and perhaps froze on the edges but it doesn't sound like they froze through the entire leaf. Also as a young and relatively newly transplanted tree it will be more susceptible to cold damage than an established tree. Remember that this is a tough plant that thrives on neglect and should not be over-watered or over-fertilized. Patience is the key right now. As long as some portions of the leaves are green and normal looking the tree will continue photosynthesizing and will be producing its own food. If not then the tree may drop its leaves and send out a new set.

Here’s a Mr. Smarty Plants question and answer about cold damage to an olive tree (the principles are the same for your smoke tree).

 

From the Image Gallery


American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

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