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Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak Leaf Hydrangea)

Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea Quercifolia, Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea Bush, Native Hydrangea, Hydrangea Snowflakes, Hydrangea Snow Queen, Hydrangea Flemygea

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak Leaf Hydrangea) is a very handsome and versatile deciduous shrub that provides a spectacular show all year round.

What is Oak Leaf Hydrangea?

Hydrangea quercifolia, commonly known as Oakleaf Hydrangea, is a deciduous shrub native to the southeastern United States.

Description: The Oakleaf Hydrangea is renowned for its distinct, lobed leaves, which resemble those of an oak tree, thus giving the plant its common name. Its foliage provides a magnificent display throughout the year, with green leaves in spring and summer transforming into shades of deep red, orange, and purple in the fall.

Growth Habit and Size: Typically, this hydrangea has a mounding growth habit and can reach heights of 2 to 6 feet (60-180 cm) and a similar spread, but some varieties can grow up to 8 feet (240 cm) or more.

Flowers: The plant’s panicle-shaped flower heads comprise numerous small, creamy-white flowers that gradually become pinkish-purple as they mature. Each flower head can be up to 12 inches (30 cm) long, creating a stunning visual impact.

Blooming Season: The blooming period generally starts in late spring or early summer. Lasting about 3-4 weeks, the elongated flower clusters gradually turn pink as fall approaches.

Bark: One key characteristic of Hydrangea quercifolia is its exfoliating bark, which peels back in thin layers, revealing a rich brown inner bark during the winter months. This adds an additional point of interest when the plant is leafless. Its fall color and winter bark, combined with its summer flowers, make it a plant with multi-season interest.

Hardiness: Oakleaf Hydrangea is hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9.

Uses: Due to its vibrant, year-round visual interest, the Oakleaf Hydrangea makes a great accent or specimen plant. It also fits well in woodland gardens, mixed borders, and as a foundation plant.

Pollinators: The blooms attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

Toxicity: All parts of the plant are considered poisonous if ingested due to the presence of hydrangin, a cyanogenic glycoside. It’s generally safe for humans to handle, but ingestion can cause discomfort.

Deer and Rabbit: Deer are known to eat Hydrangea quercifolia, though it’s not their first choice. Rabbits may also nibble on the lower leaves and stems.

Why Should I Grow Oak Leaf Hydrangea?

Growing an Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in your garden can provide several benefits:

Year-Round Interest: Oakleaf hydrangea offers visual interest throughout the year. Its large, lobed leaves are attractive in the spring and summer, turn stunning shades of red, orange, and purple in the fall, and reveal rich, exfoliating bark in the winter.

Attractive Flowers: The long panicles of white-to-pink flowers bloom in early summer, and the flower heads can remain on the plant long after they’ve faded, adding texture to the winter garden.

Easy to Grow: Oakleaf hydrangea is relatively easy to grow and maintain. It’s adaptable to different soil types (though it prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soil) and is more drought-tolerant than many other types of hydrangeas once established.

Size Variability: Different varieties of Oakleaf hydrangea can suit different garden spaces. Dwarf types like ‘Pee Wee’ or ‘Munchkin’ can fit into smaller spaces, while larger varieties like ‘Snow Queen’ or ‘Alice’ can make a dramatic statement in a larger landscape.

Pollinator Attraction: The blooms of the Oakleaf hydrangea attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies, promoting biodiversity in your garden.

Native Plant: As a plant native to the southeastern United States, Oakleaf hydrangea can be a great choice for North American gardeners looking to incorporate more native plants into their gardens.

Versatility: Oakleaf hydrangeas are versatile in the landscape. They can be used in mixed borders, as a specimen plant, or in woodland gardens. Their resistance to most pests and diseases adds to their utility in the garden.

Remember that while Oakleaf hydrangeas are more sun-tolerant than some other types, they still appreciate some shade, particularly in hotter climates. And while they’re more drought-tolerant than some hydrangeas, they’ll do best with consistent watering.

Guide Information

Hardiness 5 - 9
Heat Zones 5 - 9
Climate Zones 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
Plant Type Shrubs
Genus Hydrangea
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
Height 2' - 8'
(60cm - 240cm)
Spread 2' - 8'
(60cm - 240cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Dried Arrangements, Cut Flowers, Showy
Native Plants Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Southeast, Tennessee, United States
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Hedges And Screens, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Traditional Garden

Favorite Hydrangea quercifolia Cultivars

Garden Design with Oak Hydrangea

Designing a garden with Oakleaf Hydrangea, or Hydrangea quercifolia, can add a significant amount of visual interest due to its unique foliage, attractive flowers, and exfoliating bark. Here are a few design ideas:

Woodland Garden: The Oakleaf Hydrangea is a great addition to woodland gardens. Its natural habitat is in the woods of the southeastern United States, so it thrives in areas with dappled shade. Combine it with other woodland plants such as ferns, Hostas, and Rhododendrons.

Seasonal Interest Border: This plant’s year-round interest makes it an excellent choice for a border that emphasizes seasonal changes. It can be paired with other plants that offer different peak times, such as spring-blooming bulbs, summer-blooming perennials, and fall-foliage shrubs.

Mixed Shrub Border: Combine Oakleaf Hydrangea with other shrubs of varying heights, shapes, and colors to create a dynamic mixed border. Consider incorporating other hydrangeas, Viburnums, Azaleas, and Boxwoods.

Focal Point: Due to its size (particularly the larger cultivars) and the visual impact of its large flower panicles, Oakleaf Hydrangea can serve as a striking focal point in the garden.

Foundation Planting: The Oakleaf Hydrangea can be used as part of a foundation planting scheme due to its medium size and relatively compact growth habit. Plant it alongside other shade-loving plants.

Naturalized Areas: Oakleaf Hydrangea can be used in a naturalized planting, paired with other native plants. It’s particularly useful in areas where you want to attract pollinators.

Container Gardens: Dwarf varieties like ‘Pee Wee’ or ‘Munchkin’ can be grown in large containers to add interest to patios, decks, or small spaces.

Remember that while Oakleaf Hydrangeas can tolerate more sun than some other hydrangeas, they’ll do best with some shade, particularly in the afternoon. And like all hydrangeas, they appreciate well-drained soil that stays consistently moist.

Companion Plants

Oakleaf hydrangea, with its unique foliage and beautiful flowers, pairs well with many different plants. Here are a few companion plants that complement Oakleaf hydrangea:

Hosta (Hosta spp.): These shade-loving perennials are famous for their attractive foliage and work great under the canopy of Oakleaf Hydrangeas.

Ferns: Native ferns that appreciate the same light and moisture conditions can make excellent companions. Consider Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) or Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).

Rhododendron and Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.): These shrubs offer spring bloom and evergreen foliage, providing a contrast with the Oakleaf Hydrangea’s summer bloom and deciduous habit.

Fothergilla (Fothergilla spp.): Fothergilla is a native shrub that also likes similar conditions, blooms in the spring, and has excellent fall color, making it a great companion.

Astilbe (Astilbe spp.): Astilbe’s feathery, colorful blooms and fern-like foliage provide a contrasting texture in the shade garden.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis): This perennial produces arching stems of heart-shaped flowers in spring and looks beautiful alongside Oakleaf hydrangeas.

Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.): These perennials have colorful foliage in a wide range of colors, from lime green to deep burgundy, and small, bell-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra): This ornamental grass is shade-tolerant and adds a soft texture and a different shape to the garden.

Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud): This small tree produces stunning pink-purple blooms in early spring before the Oakleaf Hydrangea begins to flower. The heart-shaped foliage also adds texture.

Callicarpa americana (American Beautyberry): Known for its vibrant purple berries in late summer and fall, this shrub offers a great color contrast to the fall foliage of Oakleaf Hydrangea.

Ostrya virginiana (American Hophornbeam): This native tree has a similar love for partial shade and moist, well-drained soils, and its subtly attractive catkins and bark add interest.

Chionanthus virginicus (White Fringetree): The fringetree’s delicate, white spring flowers and fall color can nicely offset the more substantial flowers and bold foliage of the hydrangea.

Aesculus pavia (Red Buckeye): This small tree or large shrub offers early spring blooms that attract hummingbirds and could provide a lovely contrast before the Oakleaf Hydrangea comes into bloom.

Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum): This native shrub has white spring flowers and attractive fall color and berries. It can add another layer of seasonal interest.

Echinacea (Coneflower): With their drought tolerance and love for sun, coneflowers could make a colorful addition at the sunnier edge of where Oakleaf Hydrangea is planted.

Agastache (Anise Hyssop): Agastache’s spiky flowers can contrast nicely with the Oakleaf Hydrangea’s rounded bloom clusters. They also attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Hamamelis (Witch Hazel): Witch Hazels are known for their winter to early spring bloom and vibrant fall color, making them a good companion for extending the garden’s interest before and after Oakleaf Hydrangea’s primary season.

When selecting companion plants for Oakleaf Hydrangea, consider the light and soil conditions, as well as the aesthetic qualities you want in your garden, such as color, texture, and bloom time.

Companion Plants for Oak Leaf Hydrangea

Aesculus pavia (Red Buckeye)
Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud)
Chionanthus virginicus (Fringe Tree)
Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum)
Ostrya virginiana (American Hop Hornbeam)
Callicarpa americana (American Beautyberry)
Echinacea (Coneflower)
Agastache (Hyssop)
Hamamelis (Witch Hazel)
Hosta (Plantain Lily)
Athyrium (Lady Fern)
Azalea and Rhododendron
Astilbe
Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
Heuchera (Coral Bells)

Growing Tips

Hydrangea quercifolia, also known as Oakleaf Hydrangea, is relatively easy to grow if you follow a few key steps:

Selecting a Location: Choose a location that gets full sun to part shade. In hotter climates, afternoon shade can help prevent leaf scorch.

Soil Preparation: Oakleaf Hydrangea prefers well-draining soil. It can tolerate a range of soil types, but the soil should be rich in organic matter. If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, improve it with compost or well-rotted manure before planting.

Planting: Dig a hole that’s about twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball of your hydrangea. Place the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface, then backfill with soil, firming it gently around the root ball.

Watering: Water thoroughly after planting. Oakleaf Hydrangea likes consistent moisture, so water regularly, especially in the first few years while the plant is establishing. Once established, it has some drought tolerance, but it will perform best if the soil doesn’t dry out completely.

Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the plant to help retain soil moisture and keep the roots cool. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the stem to prevent rot.

6. Fertilizing: Fertilize in early spring and early summer with a slow-release, balanced fertilizer. Over-fertilizing can lead to more leaves and fewer flowers, so don’t overdo it.

7. Pruning: Prune in late winter or early spring if needed. Oakleaf Hydrangea blooms on old wood, so avoid pruning once the plant starts growing in spring, or you may cut off this year’s flowers. Pruning is usually not necessary except to remove dead or damaged wood or to shape the plant.

8. Winter Protection: In colder climates (zone 5), it might be beneficial to protect the hydrangea in winter with a layer of straw or a burlap wrap to prevent winter dieback.

Remember, while Oakleaf Hydrangeas are hardy and adaptable, they will do best with consistent care and the right growing conditions.

Discover These Helpful Guides for Further Reading

Hydrangea Types – Which one is yours?
Hydrangea: Plant Care and Growing Guide
Hydrangea serrata (Mountain Hydrangea)
Hydrangea macrophylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea)
Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea)
Hydrangea paniculata (Panicle Hydrangea)
Compare All Hydrangea
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 5 - 9
Heat Zones 5 - 9
Climate Zones 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
Plant Type Shrubs
Genus Hydrangea
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
Height 2' - 8'
(60cm - 240cm)
Spread 2' - 8'
(60cm - 240cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Dried Arrangements, Cut Flowers, Showy
Native Plants Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Southeast, Tennessee, United States
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Hedges And Screens, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Traditional Garden
Compare All Hydrangea
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Hydrangea
Guides with
Hydrangea

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