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Why Plant Oakleaf Hydrangeas?

Posted by Mark Luchtefeld

Why Plant An Oakleaf Hydrangea?

When was the last time you stumbled upon a specimen Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia)?

Over the years I have often been surprised by the mature Oakleaf within the landscape. It can be found in shady areas and even in full sun. The potted Oakleaf turns into the most interesting plant when added to the landscape. When grown in a pot the Oakleaf's unique features are restrained.  When planted in the ground it develops into a remarkable focal point in the landscape. It is within the landscape that the Oakleaf develops and displays its great attributes of texture, flowers, fall color and exfoliating bark.

What's So Special About An Oakleaf Hydrangea?

The Oakleaf will attract attention in all four seasons of the year. In spring, as the leaf bud starts to open, there is a silvery shine to the underside. The leaf then unfolds into the shape of a Red Oak leaf, thus, its common name.  The flower is panicle 4 to 12” long and 3 to 4” wide.  It starts white and, depending on the cultivar, changes to pink or almost red. The Oakleaf can flower even in heavy shade. In the fall the leaves change to different shades of burgundy. In the winter, after the leaves have fallen, the exfoliating brown bark is on display while the flower heads dance in the gentle winds. 

Best Oakleaf Hydrangeas:

Here are four of my favorite pics:

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice':

hydrangea quercifolia aliceAlice is a large 5 to 8’ wide and high with large 8 to 10” blooms starting in June and continuing into July. Blooms start out white and gradually fading to pink. The leaves turn from green to a showy burgundy fall color. This plant will grow in full sun to part shade. Zone 5 to 9 hardiness. 



Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee'

'Pee Wee' is a "dwarf " Oakleaf with a height of 3 to 4 ‘ and a 2-1/2 to 3' spread.hydrangea quercifolia pee wee

Flowers are white fading to pink and smaller than Alice. It blooms for 6 to 8 weeks. Its deep
green Oak-like leaves are distinctly, deeply-lobed and change in the fall to bronze, maroon and purple. 



Hydrangea quercifolia 'Sikes Dwarf'

hydrangea quercifolia sykes dwarf



'Sikes Dwarf' matures to 2 to 4’ height and width. The white cone-shaped flowers are 4” long and turn a reddish pink as they mature. The foliage turns a purple-red in the fall. 





Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'

hydrangea quercifolia ruby slippers'Ruby Slippers' is a USDA release in 2010. The reports on this Oakleaf are telling of a great plant. It grows to 3-1/2' tall and 5’ wide in seven years. In midsummer the 9" long flowers will cover the plant. The flowers start out white, quickly turn pink and then turn into deep rose.  In the fall the dark green foliage turns to an outstanding mahogany-red.


Hydrangea quercifolia 'Munchkin'

hydrangea munchkin'Munchkin' is another USDA release in 2010. This slow-grower, it reaches 3’ tall and 4-1/2' wide in nine years. It is small and rounded. The 6-1/2" flowers stand upright above the foliage. The flowers open white and slowly turn pink. The dark green foliage is similar to Ruby Slippers turning mahogany-red in the fall. 

(The new USDA releases are a good fit into today's trend toward smaller and smaller plants.  Of course, smaller plants allow room for more plants within the landscaping.) 


The Oakleaf is hardy into Zone 5 if the winter die-back is trimmed back to the new leaves. Flowers are produced on old wood so any trimming should be done after the flowering is finished. In colder regions moderate winter protection will help the Oakleaf make it through the first year. 

The Oakleaf Hydrangea offers four seasons of beauty and charm just for you.  If you incorporate several different varieties of Oakleafs into the landscaping near your patio or in a memorial garden, think of the pleasure it could bring.  

  • Envision yourself on a clear moon-lit night in the cold of winter, all bundled up in your favorite outdoor chair with a hot cup of tea in hand.  The Oakleafs are there just for you to delight your senses with the gentle dance of the exfoliating bark and dried flowers in the winter breeze.  

  • Envision yourself on a fresh spring day relaxing in your favorite lawn chair with a glass of fine wine.  The Oakleafs are there just for you with the delightful unfolding of new leaves.  

  • Envision yourself on a warm summer afternoon with a large glass of ice tea waiting to turn the steaks on the grill.  The Oakleafs are there just for you with flowers that subtly and mysteriously change color from white to pink.  

And, of course, the Oakleafs are there in the fall... just for you.  Envision yourself called on a busy crazy day to withdraw to your favorite outdoor chair with a mug of warm apple cider. The urge to put your feet up is impossible to resist.  Although the show is in progress, you're not too late.  For this, my friends, is the Oakleafs' finest hour.  They have clothed themselves in amazingly glorious and majestic fall colors... just for you.  Your busy crazy day has melted away.  

Now, envision yourself without Oakleaf Hydrangeas near your patio or in your memorial garden... but not for long.  Visit your local independent garden center or landscape company TODAY.  Check out the new varieties of Oakleaf Hydrangeas.  They are waiting just for you.


Tags: Plants, General, Shrubs