A Case for the Underdog
When the word “hydrangea” is spoken, for most people the blue or pink mophead types are the first or only ones that come to mind. What a shame. The oakleaf hydrangea, properly Hydrangea quercifolia, may be my favorite of the whole genus for several reasons.
A Southern Native
First of all, I have a soft spot for native plants. Oakleaf hydrangea comes from wild parentage in the southeastern U.S. Interestingly, it’s cold hardiness far outruns its native area (USDA zones 5-9), which is another reason I like it. I can take cuttings off mine and share with friends up north. As natives go, it has relatively few maintenance needs once it is established.
A Beautiful Giant
Another reason to love this plant is for the large proportions. We planted ours (variety: ‘Alice’) as a memorial for Debbie’s 20 year old Maltese when she passed away. Debbie laughed at the irony of the flowers being larger than the dog was, however the dog’s personality fit the proportions of the plant just right. At maturity many of the varieties will reach more than eight feet tall and wide. The deep green leaves which turn purple-red in fall, can be eight to ten inches long and wide. The panicles of white flowers which mature to pink, are often over twelve inches long and six inches wide. This shrub makes a bold statement in flower or fall color. If the large size is too much for your landscape, check out the variety called ‘Pee Wee’ it stays roughly half the size of the species with proportionally smaller leaves and flowers.
It Keeps on Giving
Oakleaf hydrangea is also persistent. You may leave the spent flowers on all summer to enjoy a progression of airy lime green immature flowers and buds, creamy white full bloom, rose-pink mature flowers, and even the brown “dead-heads” can add character to the late summer/fall landscape. Later in fall, the leaves hold on just as long. I often still have maroon leaves around Christmas.
What It Needs
As with its relatives, oakleaf hydrangea performs best with some shade from the hottest sun of the day and an even supply of moisture. Ours is on the north border of a wooded area getting an angle of sun in the morning and again in the late afternoon; this seems to be adequate. For an easy care native with lots to offer, consider oakleaf hydrangea.