When talking about choices in hydrangeas it can quickly become an overwhelming topic. Macrophylla, arborescens, quercifolia, paniculata, mopheads, lacecaps, climbers, blue flowers, pink flowers… Good golly molly the choices are endless! The exciting thing though is that there are so many choices and there’s a fantastic hydrangea for every garden. Basically, there are four species of hydrangeas, macrophylla, quercifolia, arborescens and paniculata. Within those species are hundreds of varieties of hydrangeas which would take a lifetime to review and discuss. To narrow the scope let’s take a closer look and review a few of the oakleaf hydrangeas (quercifolia) which are a very popular type of hydrangea.
Hydrangea Pee Wee (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’)
When it comes to hydrangeas bigger isn’t always better. ‘Pee Wee’ is noted for its compact size in relation to most other quercifolia hydrangeas growing 3-4’ tall and 3-4’ wide. It’s smaller stature makes it a good choice for a foundation planting or in an area where space is a consideration. Its name (hydrangea oakleaf) comes from the leaves being shaped like oak leaves which gives this plant some very nice character.
Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Pee Wee’
Hydrangea ‘Pee Wee’ has a beautiful, conical shaped white flower that comes into bloom during June and July and fades to a pink later in the season. The blooms make excellent cut flowers for display in the home and also provide a nice fragrance. Oak leaf hydrangeas are known for their multi-season interest and ‘Pee Wee’ is no exception. Fall foliage color has red, burgundy and purple shades and the faded flowers dry and hold on the plant during the winter months. The bark of the plant peels and exudes a dark brown color. Plant in full sun to part shade and make sure there is good drainage as this hydrangea does not like its “feet wet”. Its hardiness range is from zones 5 to 9 and is overall a low maintenance plant.
Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Sikes Dwarf’)
‘Sikes Dwarf’ is another smaller version of the oak-leaved hydrangea that has a compact form and a rounded shape. This variety of oak leaf grows 2-4’ tall and 2-4’ wide having has smaller leaves and smaller flower panicles than the species. Its foliage and blooms extend all the way to the ground and it tends to sucker less frequently from the roots compared to some of the oakleaf hydrangeas. This hydrangea is an excellent plant choice for a smaller garden space in a foundation or patio planting and also makes a nice, small hedge.
Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’
This hydrangea boasts its multi-season characteristics from flowers to foliage to bark. From May until July the flowers emerge as pale greenish-white turning to white then finally a reddish-pink as the flowers mature. Fall foliage coloring is a welcome sight to see as its oak shaped leaves turn many shades of red. During the winter months it can be appreciated for its “paper-like” bark. It makes a great plant for container gardening bringing great texture and color to the patio or porch and as a cut flower fills the home with fabulous summer color. Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’ is best suited in a well-drained, moist and slightly acidic soil and is considered to be a low maintenance shrub. It’s hardiness range is from zones 5-9.
Hydrangea ‘Alice’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’)
Hydrangea ‘Alice’ is one of the few hydrangeas that is native to the United States (H. arborescens being the other one) and is noted for its large, arching flowers that can grow up to 14” long. It is a larger oak leaf hydrangea growing 5-8’ tall and 5-8’ wide. ‘Alice’ is a good plant choice as a large specimen or accent plant in a foundation planting or near patios. It is also a good choice for a shrub border.
Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Alice’
Alice is a beautiful hydrangea most noted for its large, arching white panicles the bloom from June all the way through July. It has beautiful fall color with the panicles fading out from white to pink in late summer and the foliage turning to a deep red and bronze color through the fall. This hydrangea likes a soil that has medium moisture with good drainage and rich organic media. Light requirements for this plant are full sun to part shade. Hardy in zones 5-9 and should be winter protected in zone 5.
Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’)
A newcomer to the market in 2010 is Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’. It was developed in 1998 as a hybrid from hydrangea ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Pee Wee’ and one of the first hydrangeas to be introduced from the United States. Noted for being a small oakleaf, ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a compact plant with an upright shape making it a good choice in a small landscape. It grows 3.5’ tall and 5’ wide. Uses in the landscape include a mass hedge, shrub border, or specimen plant.
Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’
This dwarf hydrangea is a showstopper in the oakleaf family. Its 9” long flowers bloom for 4-8 weeks from early to mid-summer starting out with a white panicle, turning to pink and then the beautiful red color. The stems are very strong and hold the flowers upright creating a beautiful and sturdy plant. The leaves are sturdy as well and able to withstand strong winds and sun and the fabulous fall color of scarlet-burgandy is a must see! It grows best in a well-drained, enriched soil with good moisture, but will also tolerate dry soils once established. It will tolerate full sun to partial shade and is hardy in zones 5-8.
Most hydrangeas really don’t need pruning so it’s best to just let them do their thing. If there are weak or winter-damaged branches it is ok to prune those areas. Sometimes pruning will encourage more flowers on older plants or if the hydrangea was planted in the incorrect area reducing its size might be necessary. If any pruning is to be done the timing is important. Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood (meaning last year’s branches) and set their flower buds in late summer or early fall. Pruning too late in the season can eliminate flowers for the following year. Make sure any pruning is done right after flowering is finished.
Planting and Care of Hydrangeas
Oakleaf hydrangeas will grow in full sun to part shade and might benefit from some afternoon shade in hot climates. Make sure to consider the appropriate location based on soil type and mature size of plant when choosing a planting area. Oakleaf hydrangeas tend to like a well-drained soil that is organically enriched. Oakleaf hydrangeas are very particular about soil moisture and don’t like to have “wet feet”. Too much moisture will cause root rot. Make sure the hydrangea is planted the same level as it was in the pot. Planting time is not too particular, but may be best to wait until the chance of frost is gone. If planting in the summer ensure that appropriate watering is followed. Make sure to follow a regular watering pattern until the plant is fully established. Supplemental watering may be needed during dry/drought conditions.
Changing the Color of Hydrangeas
Oakleaf hydrangeas are not one of the types of hydrangeas that can be changed from blue to pink or pink to blue. They could actually be considered “self-changers” as they naturally change their colors during blooming time which is really fun to watch.
(Hydrangea 'Pee Wee', 'Sikes Dwarf' and 'Alice' photos from Missouri Botanical Garden. Hydrangea 'Ruby Slippers' photo from American Nurseryman.)