Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee'--A Mosaic of Color
A great shrub for winter interest is the Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). The cultivar ‘Pee Wee’ is one of my favorite garden plants. It has a more compact habit than the species with smaller leaves and smaller flower panicles, and less suckering. Planted on an eastern exposure, under the partial shade of a Japanese maple, it has grown 4 feet high and 4-5 feet wide.
The white, elongated panicles emerge in early summer and fade to pink as they age, turning brown in fall. The brown seed panicles can last long into winter. The dark green oak-like leaves are deeply-lobed and coarse. In the fall they turn attractive shades of bronze, maroon and purple. Mature stems exfoliate to reveal a rich brown inner bark which is attractive in winter.
Pruning should be done just after flowering because they bloom on old wood. In USDA Zone 5 or colder, a little winter protection (extra mulch, burlap wrap) may be needed to protect next season’s blooms. Weak or damaged stems may be pruned out in early spring before new growth emerges.
A great companion plant to the Oakleaf hydrangea is the Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). The coppery orange fronds of the new growth age to a dark green. New growth continues through the growing season. Semi-evergreen in the St. Louis area, the Autumn Fern leaf can stay green long into the winter. Planted at the perimeter of an Oakleaf it gives great contrast to the rich browns of the hydrangea’s winter seed panicles. The Oakleaf hydrangea and the Autumn Fern mix a mosaic of copper, green, maroon and brown from spring to winter.