Oakleaf Hydrangeas: Are They Right for Your Garden?

Oakleaf Hydrangea - Snowflake

Unlike most hydrangeas that originate in Asia, oakleaf hydrangeas are actually native to the United States. The botanical name, hydrangea quercifolia, is Latin for oak leaf. This deciduous shrub is native in the southeast from North Carolina to Florida and reaches west to Louisiana. The elongated clusters of long-lasting white blooms mature in late spring and summer and turn purple over time. For info on the other types of hydrangeas, be sure to see Different Types of Hydrangeas. The oakleaf hydrangea shrubs are available in many varieties that range from 3 to 15 feet tall.

How Are Oakleaf Hydrangeas Different Than Other Hydrangeas?

Bloom Shape – The popular mophead hydrangea has big round clusters of flowers. The oakleaf, in comparison, has elongated clusters of blooms.

Leaves – The leaves of the oakleaf are much larger than most other varieties of hydrangeas. Leaves on some varieties can grow as large as 12 inches across. They are similar in shape to the leaf of an oak tree and have a coarse texture.

Fall color – The large leaves also contribute to fall foliage with their colorful leaves that cling to the branches well into the winter. According to ftd.com, the oakleaf hydrangea is the only hydrangea with leaves that change colors in the winter. Fall leaf colors range from golden yellow to crimson red and deep mahogany. For this reason, they are perfect flowering shrubs to add color to the fall garden.

Soil and color – Unlike the popular mophead hydrangeas, soil pH does not affect the color of oakleaf blooms. Most varieties are white or greenish-white when they bloom and as they mature turn pink or reddish-purple.

Hardiness – Unlike the pretty pink and blue mophead hydrangeas, the tough oakleaf is cold hardy in most locations and you won’t have to worry about your plants during an unexpected cold spell.

Drought tolerant – Also unlike most hydrangeas, the oakleaf is fairly drought resistant once established.

Are Oakleaf Hydrangeas Right for My Garden?

Depending on the variety, oakleaf hydrangeas are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. Plants in zone 5, however, might need a sheltered location and winter protection such as burlap. They are also available in a wide range of sizes so they are a great fit for most gardens.

How to Grow Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Sun – In the north, oakleaf hydrangeas do best in areas with full sun to light shade. In the south, plant in a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Heavy shade will result in larger leaves and fewer blooms.

Soil – Oakleaf Hydrangeas do well in rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. If you have heavy clay soil or sandy soil, you will need to amend your soil for optimum results.

Water – All varieties of hydrangeas like water, but oakleaf hydrangeas seem to tolerate dryer conditions. Ideally, soil should be evenly moist but now soggy. They do not do well in standing water. Mulch is useful to retain moisture in drier areas.

When to Prune

Typically, these shrubs do not need pruning and do well when left natural. If size is a problem, however, they can be pruned but care must be taken to prune them at the proper time of year. Oakleaf hydrangeas flower on “old wood” which means they bloom from buds that started growing the previous year. For this reason, always prune oakleaf hydrangeas right after they finish flowering before the blooms for next year can form. If you prune too late in the year, you might destroy all your potential blooms for the following year.

Oakleaf hydrangeas come in a wide variety of sizes and types. Their blooms come in two forms: single blossom and double blossom.

Alice – A large flowering shrub at about 5 to 8 feet wide and tall, the Alice has large blooms beginning in early summer. Depending on your soil and conditions, the Alice can grow as big as 12 feet tall and wide. The blooms begin white and then gradually fade to pink.

Amethyst – The Amethyst grows to about 6 feet tall and wide. The flowers turn from white to pink on these oakleaf hydrangeas.

Gatsby Moon – This pretty variety grows to about 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. The double flowers start white and then, unusually, turn to green.

Harmony – Among the most showy of blossoms, the Harmony grows to about 10 feet tall and wide. The white, dense double blossoms are so large that their weight can actually bend the branches of the plant.

Munchkin – This slow growing variety reaches about 3 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. The blossoms stand upright above the foliage and make a pretty display with their white flowers that slowly turn pink.

Pee Wee – The Pee Wee is a dwarf variety that is about 3 feet tall and wide. In keeping with its size, the flowers are smaller than many other varieties. Blossoms begin as white and fade to pink. Bloom time is about six to eight weeks.

Queen of Hearts – This large shrub grows to about 7 feet tall and 9 feet wide. According to the Piedmont Master Gardeners website, this cultivar was developed from a hybridization of Snow Queen and Pee Wee. The flowers begin white and slowly age to deep pink.

Ruby Slippers – At about 4 feet tall and wide, Ruby Slippers is a pretty variety that has very large summer blooms that begin white and quickly transform to pink and then ruby red. This is a great plant for gardeners who want a smaller plant.

Snowflake – These pretty oakleaf hydrangeas have a long bloom season. The Snowflake is a medium-sized oakleaf that grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, or even much larger, depending on conditions. The double blooms are oversized and quite showy. They start white and then age to pink, and then to light tan.

Snow Queen – This is a mid-sized shrub about 4 to 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The bark is the color of cinnamon. The flowers are upright and the plant tolerates sunnier sights well. Blooms begin white and fade to pink.

Common Uses

The oakleaf hydrangea is a versatile flowering shrub. It works well as a specimen plant, a foundation plant, in woodland gardens, or when planted in large groups as borders. These flowering shrubs are also tougher and more forgiving than most varieties of hydrangeas. Thanks to the huge variety of sizes and styles, so chances are, you are sure to find an oakleaf hydrangea perfect for your garden.

Read more about Hydrangeas from these articles below!

Oakleaf Hydrangeas: Are They Right for Your Garden?Oakleaf Hydrangeas: Are They Right for Your Garden?