Last winter’s cold did a number on the smoke bushes. Last spring we noticed that many were frozen plumb back down to the ground. But just to prove you cannot keep a good smoke bush down, most have sprouted back out and are blooming again with their dramatic, smoky puffs.

Cotinus is a handsome specimen plant for sites with well-drained soil. According to Proven Winners, it actually prefers crummy soils, including dry, rocky ones with poor fertility. It will tolerate clay, too. That makes it a useful plant for anyone who doesn't have the coveted "moist, well-drained soil" that so many plants prefer.

Grown for both their foliage color and airy smoke-like summer blooms, these attractive plants never fail to draw attention and admiration. New cultivars offer differing foliage color and manageable growth patterns.

And smoke bushes boast good deer resistance, too. What are you waiting for? A plant that grows nicely in a container? Well, here you go. There are two varieties of Cotinus that are compact, well-branched specimens for container production.

Winecraft Gold Cotinus coggygria is an improved golden variety with pretty orange-red new growth in spring and improved burn resistance. The summer blooms start out green and then age to pink. It is hardy to USDA Zone 5, and will grow in full sun or part shade.

Winecraft Black C. coggygria has dark purple foliage and showy pink "smoke" in summer. It is hardy to USDA Zone 4 and is best in full sun. Both of these new cultivars have nice, uniform semi-dwarf growth so you don't get the irregular branching that is so common for smoke bush.

Just imagine a pair of these misty-colorful plants flanking an entryway or patio. For winter protection, plan to either sink planters into the soil up to the soil level in the container or position plants in the ground, mulching heavily and watering in well and then watering as needed until the ground freezes.

Winecraft Gold and Winecraft Black grow four to six feet tall and wide. Next spring wait until the shrubs sprout out before pruning back any winter-killed branches.

Back to school scholarships for horticulture students

If your local school district hasn't started the school year yet, it will soon. School lunches are still well planned and socks match. By next June we'll be scavenging through the fridge for unexpired yogurt and wearing sandals.

Bigger kids have bigger worries than what's in the lunchbox. Most college students are actively looking for scholarship money. If you know a horticulture student who could use some extra money (which is every horticulture student), share this information about the scholarships available from the Horticulture Research Institute. HRI is a valuable organization that is committed to making this industry great. A key part of that mission is helping the next generation.

But don't procrastinate. College students have been known at times to put off doing things. There are so many fun distractions, especially in the fall. There is a deadline for these scholarship applications, and it's coming up fast: Sept. 13.

Selecting spring-flowering bulbs, there’s help

Selecting spring-flowering bulbs is one of the joys of the coming season. However, not everyone is comfortable with the process. And for those who desire spring bulb and perennial partnerships that deliver high performance in spring, then transition gracefully into early summer, things can get more challenging.

But now, there is help from Colorblends Wholesale Flowerbulbs ( of Bridgeport, Conn. It sells direct to landscape professionals and home gardeners nationwide, offering wholesale pricing with a minimum order of $60. The company is known for pre-tested, pre-blended flower bulb blends that deliver beautiful spring displays with extended bloom and consistently dependable results.

Now, a small website,, offers gardeners a useful glimpse inside the design process of three talented designers known for their mixes of spring bulbs, perennials and flowering trees and shrubs. It is help and it is free.

Every fall I plant a variety of spring-blooming bulbs. Alliums are some of my favorites and this fall I will be including drumstick allium, Sphaerocephalon. The last of the bulbous alliums to bloom, its egg-shaped, wine-red flower heads wait until summer to color up. These singular little flowering bulbs put on a nice show when planted in tight groups in a perennial border. And like a lot of the alliums, they are deer-resistant too.