Hydrangea quercifolia - What We Commoners Call Oakleaf Hydrangea
If the mophead hydrangea (macrophylla) is the Diva Queen of the garden, then I would say the oakleaf hydrangea is King.
Hydrangea quercifolia, commonly known as oakleaf hydrangea, is a stately shrub that can get quite large over time. Most can grow 6 to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide or more. There are some that have been bred to be dwarf size, such as Ruby Slippers (see below).
But its not just the size that gives this shrub its king-like appearance, the coarse-textured, oakleaf-shaped leaves are bigger (8+ inches long) than any of the other hydrangea species. Oak in botanical latin is "Quercus", hence oakleaf hydrangea is Hydrangea quercifolia.
Depending on the variety, the creamy conical shaped panicles can be small (4 inches) to large (12 inches), single or double florets, or with tightly packed or loosely held florets.
It all adds up to make this a handsome shrub.
The oakleaf hydrangeas bloom earlier (generally in May) than other hydrangea species in my yard and I see the bees and other pollinators buzzing around the flowers.
As an added bonus, the oakleaf flowers have a honey or vanilla scent.
They are botanically called a panicle inflorescence.
Four Seasons of Features
One reason I love this shrub is it's not just a one season wonder. It has all season interest.
It blooms in late spring and then the blooms turn a rosy pink in the summer. Its fall leaf color is a beautiful red or burgundy and the leaves stay on the shrub for a long time. The peeling bark on mature stems gives it winter interest as well.
Red fall color on oakleaf hydrangea.
The beautiful peeling bark on oakleaf hydrangea.
Culture & Care
Its happiest with some morning sun or dappled shade. They can handle more sun than the macrophylla and will produce more blooms but its does prefer afternoon shade.
It prefers moist, well drained soil (not soggy or your oakleaf will not be happy) but once established it is more drought tolerant than the mophead hydrangea.
Oakleafs don't need to be pruned but if you need to cut back the plant to reduce size, do it after it flowers because they bloom on old wood. If you wait until later in the season to prune you won't have any blooms for next year.
Native to the southeastern United States, oakleafs are hardy to Zone 5. I'm always in favor of planting natives species for our wildlife and pollinator populations.
Here are a few of my favorite oakleaf varieties:
- Snowflake: This variety has double flowers and large panicles. Sometimes they are so heavy they weigh down the branches.
- Gatsby's Moon: This variety has the florets held very tightly together. It almost looks like a mophead bloom.
- Ruby Slippers – one of the dwarf varieties that only gets 4-5 feet tall. It is a prolific bloomer and holds the flowers well. Panicles are still quite big for a smaller shrub. The flowers turn a rosy red as it ages, hence the name “ruby” slippers,
- Little Honey – This variety has chartreuse foliage when it comes out in spring and then gradually turns a medium green by late The chartruese color can really lighten up a shady spot. It also does not get very large, usually 4 foot.
- Alice – the largest of the oakleafs. The flower panicle can reach 14 inches long.
Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'
Oakleafs definitely deserve a place in your garden.
The larger varieties are impressive as a backdrop to your shrub and flower borders or along the edge of your woods. The smaller varieties can fit nicely in the shrub border or as focal point with other blooming shrubs.
Wherever you plant these gentle giants in your garden, it will make a royal statement!
Mariana DiVita is a friend and hydrangea expert in North Georgia. We always learn so much from her!