Plant Spotlight On Oakleaf Hydrangea

There are compelling reasons to incorporate Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) into the landscape. This North American native shrub is bold, classic, and offers year-round interest to the yard. Professionals find them extremely versatile; whether planted as a specimen plant, integrated into a mixed border, or planted en masse creating elegant drifts. Homeowners love the oakleaf hydrangea’s big flower clusters (panicles) which are born white and change slowly to pink as they age. As a bonus, they are beautiful both as fresh cut and dried flowers. Flower panicles that are left on the branches to dry will look lovely for months.

One of the many highlights of this species is that unlike other hydrangeas, H. quercifolia brings an encore of color during the cool season. Come late fall or early winter, the leathery-green, oak-shaped leaves turn a stunning bronze, yellow, red, orange, and purple that linger on the branches. Peeling, cinnamon-colored branches are revealed once the leaves have fallen, adding to winter interest.

Plant Profile

Oakleaf hydrangeas are multi-stemmed and have an upright growth habit.

Zones: 6 - 9b

Sun/Shade: Full 6-8 hours of sun (afternoon shade in areas with extreme summers).

Height: 6’- 15’ feet tall (depending on the variety)

Width: 6’- 15’ feet wide (depending on the variety)

Bloom Time: Late spring through early fall

Bloom Color: Blooms start out white, turning to pink as they age, and finally to an antique beige.

Wildlife: Bees, butterflies, birds

Cultivation

Oakleaf hydrangeas produce the most blooms and are at their best in the fall when they get full sun. With that in mind, plant them in a spot where they will receive full sun but consider that they will need afternoon shade in areas with hot summers. These woodland plants thrive in rich, well-draining, slightly acidic soil. They perform best when they are regularly watered but won’t tolerate wet feet (so don’t overwater). However, they are heat tolerant once they’ve become established.

Transplant them from container to the garden by digging a hole that’s slightly deeper and preferably twice as wide as the container.  Add a soil amendment to the hole such as compost and a garden soil mix which gets the shrub off to the best start while the roots acclimate to your soil. Set the plant into the hold and fill the rest of the way with the amendment. Ideally, you want the plant’s root ball sitting a little higher than the soil line to allow for settling.

These hydrangeas bloom off ‘old’ wood, which means next year’s blooms are already set in the current late summer or fall. So, if you want to prune your shrub, do this after the plant is finished blooming in the summer. You can also deadhead (remove spent blossoms) at any time by simply snipping them off.

Varieties

Find the perfect Oakleaf hydrangea variety:

  • ‘Alice’ is the largest cultivar available, reaching 10’-15’ tall and wide. The flower panicles can be over 12” long.  
  • ‘Snowflake’ grows to 6’-10’ tall and wide and produces double-blossomed flowers.  
  • ‘Snow Queen’ grows 4’-6’ tall and 6’-8’ wide. Her blossoms sit upright on the stem.  
  • ‘Pee Wee’ grows 3’-5’ feet tall and wide (perfect for small gardens)
  • ‘Sikes Dwarf’ grows 4’-5’ feet tall and wide (great for small gardens)

Special Features

Oakleaf hydrangeas have excellent resilience against pests and disease, and not much will take them down. Occasionally, they will get a little Botrytis blight or powdery mildew on the leaves. But it is typically cosmetic and not horribly so. For those who share their neighborhood with deer, it’s good to know that they often ignore H. quercifolia, as they don’t seem to find them as appetizing as other hydrangea species.

Warning: All parts of the oakleaf hydrangea are considered poisonous if ingested.