KC Gardens

Plant spotlight: Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oak leaf hydrangea
Oak leaf hydrangea Submitted photo

From Dennis Patton:

Recent rains have the garden lush with foliage. This past weekend I had a chance to get out into the garden. It seemed like this was the first weekend I did not work hard in the garden, but instead, took time, as they say, to stop and smell the roses. One of the plants that caught my eye was the Oakleaf hydrangea. The plant is in full bloom and deserves to be at home in everyone’s garden.

Hydrangea quercifolia, or common name Oakleaf hydrangea, is truly one of those rare, four season plants that put on a spectacular show all year-round.

Spring starts the show with beautiful white flower clusters that cover the plant. The flower period is long for a flowering shrub, lasting two to four weeks. Once the peak display has passed the faded flowers still have character. The flower clusters transform from pure white to pink hues. Eventually, the clusters dry to a nice creamy bronze that creates interest for the rest of the summer and into fall.

Summer finds this multi-season plant cloaked with large green, leathery textured leaves. The leaf shape is interesting, as they are deeply lobed, giving them more the look of an oak, hence the name Oakleaf hydrangea.

Fall is this plant’s season to really shine, as the leaf color is some of the best around. Oakleaf hydrangeas slowly change from the deep green to the prized and coveted shades. Fall color ranges with the variety, but picture a stately shrub in the landscape that glows with shades of wine-red to purple and rich burgundy for weeks. These fall hues are not muddy but clear and bold, which are exceptionally striking when the sun backlights a leaf.

Winter brings with its arrival another feature of this plant. Once the leaves drop the inner beauty of the plant is revealed. Young branches are a nice brownish color. As the stems age the bark begins to exfoliate or peal, developing a rich cinnamon-brown papery appearance. The combination of reddish-brown looks great all winter long, but is most showy when snow blankets the ground.

Here is the best part about this four season plant, it’s not a diva. Oakleaf hydrangea is adaptable but prefers morning sun with light shade in the afternoon. It will tolerate more sun but will need to be kept evenly moist for best growth. It will tolerate some shade and still flower. The plant will thrive best with supplemental moisture during dry spells but can be quite drought tolerant once established. Oakleaf hydrangea, if situated correctly in the landscape, will require little pruning. It flowers on old wood so do not prune until after it blooms.

The other good news about this plant is the availability of several varieties, some larger, and many more tailored to smaller yards. ‘Alice’ may be the largest of this grouping, reaching upwards to 10 feet, and features extremely large flowers and a great wine-red to purple fall color.

‘Snowflake’ will range in height from 6 to 8 feet, and its unique feature is double flower blossoms, which are quite attractive. This Oakleaf hydrangea may be the best for shady areas, as it is not as adaptable to the sun.

‘Snow Queen’ may be one of the more sun tolerant varieties and reaches up to 4 to 6 feet tall. The flowers also tend to be held more upright instead of horizontal as with many other varieties. Fall color is a deep red-bronze.

‘Sikes Dwarf’ is smaller; it only grows to 4 feet, but still retains all the great qualities of its larger cousin. Great summer foliage is followed by the impressive red to purple fall color. Another one reaching the same size is ‘Vaughn’s Lillie.’ Its attribute is the fact that it might have the largest flower head in comparison to size.

The smallest of the many selections, only growing to 2 or 3 feet, is called appropriately ‘Pee Wee.’ Expect smaller size flower clusters, but just think how adaptable a plant this size is in the landscape, with great flower color in later spring.

Oakleaf hydrangea deserves a place in every landscape. It is truly one of those plants that are pleasing to the eye in all seasons. If you don’t have this plant take a trip to the garden center, as there is still time to add this charming beauty.