Oakleaf Hydrangea

Discover the multi-season interest of oakleaf hydrangea, which tolerates more sun and drier soil than other hydrangea shrubs.
By: Julie A Martens
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Botanical Names: Hydrangea quercifolia

Celebrate the march of the seasons by planting oakleaf hydrangea. This native hydrangea shrub sets a changing scene throughout the year, offering beautiful flowers and outstanding fall color. Its botanical name is Hydrangea quercifolia, and you can find several varieties that grow to different sizes at nurseries.

Oakleaf hydrangea gets its name from the lobed leaves, which resemble oak leaves in shape. These large, oblong leaves bring a coarse texture to landscape plantings, which contrasts artfully with the finer textured flower heads. In fall, oakleaf hydrangea leaves turn various shades ofpurple, burgundy, red, orange and gold. The effect can be breathtaking. Best fall color develops on oakleaf hydrangeas grown with morning sun and afternoon shade.

Of all the hydrangeas, oakleaf hydrangea can take a little more sun. In northern regions, full day sun is fine, but in Southern and Western locations, afternoon shade protects plants from the sizzling rays that come during the hottest part of the day. Give oakleaf hydrangea well-drained soil. This hydrangea can withstand drier soil, but has zero tolerance for waterlogged soil. If plants are in soggy soil, they’ll likely succumb to root rot.

Flowers open in summer, displayed in long, pyramid shaped heads. The native species and early varieties open white flowers. Over time, flowers fade to blush pink before deepening to a dusky rose. Left on plants into winter, flower heads mature to a honey tone, bringing color and texture to winter scenery.

Newer varieties have pink flowers and also come in a range of sizes. Hydrangea quercifolia ‘PeeWee’ and ‘Sikes Dwarf’ fit small gardens, growing roughly 4 feet tall and wide. White oakleaf hydrangea varieties include ‘Snow Queen,’ which grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. Blooms are white with single petals. Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ is another single flowered white variety that grows 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. ‘Snowflake’ is a variety sold as a double flower, with twice the number of petals for a fuller, richer look. No matter which variety you want, be sure to purchase a plant that is blooming. That’s the only way to be certain you are getting the flower color and type you want.

Plant oakleaf hydrangeas to create an informal hedge, or use them as part of a shrub border. They look beautiful planted against evergreens, which provide a pretty backdrop for flowers and colorful fall foliage. Because of the multi-season color show, it’s a good idea to place oakleaf hydrangeas where they’re visible from indoors, especially in regions with cooler falls and winters.

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