Oakleaf Hydrangea Care and 11 Varieties to Grow
Looking for tough shrubs that deliver year-round beauty? Discover the benefits of growing gorgeous oakleaf hydrangeas!
Oakleaf Hydrangea Benefits
Like better-known mophead (Hydrangea macrophylla) and mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata), American native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) delivers abundant, showy flowers in summer to a shaded border. However, any oakleaf hydrangea you choose has multiple attributes making it a winning landscape performer year-round. Plantsman Michael Dirr calls their flowers “almost a bonus.”
Their bold foliage, looking like overgrown oak leaves, brings striking fall color in a collage of red, copper, and purple shades. Mahogany-toned peeling textured bark adds further interest through the winter, especially framed by spring bulbs or an evergreen ground cover.
These reliable designer favorites would prefer not to be pruned, and, unlike many bigleaf types, they’ll keep the flower color they had at the nursery no matter the soil pH in your garden. Let’s not forget their appeal to pollinators like bees, beneficial insects, and birds.
Check out stunning white hydrangea bushes to grow.
Yet what impressive flowers they are! From 6 to 12 inches long, they are white and cone-shaped, some are nearly solid, some lacy, some upright, and some are regally pendant boughed down by their own weight. Many varieties’ blooms do a costume change in midsummer over to pink or green and finally tan, which persist over the winter catching snow and feeding the birds with seeds. (The dried blooms look fab in winter arrangements indoors as well).
Find the best hydrangea bush for every yard and growing condition.
Oakleaf Hydrangea Care
Most oakleaf hydrangea varieties are hardy from Zones 6 to 9, with a few to Zone 5. Best growth, flowering, and fall color come with at least four hours of morning sun, ideally half a day. They can thrive in the coolest regions in full sun. But most prefer protection from the hot afternoon sun – especially in the warmer ends of their range. If planting in the coldest regions, consider protecting young plants from frosts in the first two years.
The ideal soil is consistently moist, with good drainage. However, once established, oakleaf hydrangeas are more tolerant of occasional dry spells than macrophylla types (like Endless Summer).
See the 6 hydrangea types you need in your garden.
Other than occasional damage from spider mites or aphids, they are little bothered by pests and diseases. Deer can be attracted to young foliage. Protect new plants with a wire enclosure or deer repellent.
Once you choose one sized for your garden, the only pruning needed is removing dead or broken branches. If you must shape them, do so immediately after flowering. They bloom on old wood—any later, you risk snipping off next year’s flowers.
Learn more about how to care for hydrangeas.
New and Notable Oakleaf Hydrangea Varieties
Alice Leave some room for this showstopper featuring 10 to 14-inch white-then-rose flowers. A selection of the species from Michael Dirr, Alice averages 6 to 8 feet tall but can reach 12 feet in the South.
Snowflake For a big show, growing up to 5 to 8 feet tall or more, Snowflake paints an intricate picture with double bicolor flowers made of layered florets recalling new-fallen snow.
Do hydrangea flowers have special meaning?
For Small Spaces
Ruby Slippers and Munchkin both come from U.S. National Arboretum’s breeding program. Ruby maxes out at 3 to 5 feet with upright flowers that morph from white to rich ruby, holding their color well and deep claret fall color. Munchkin, an offspring of Sikes Dwarf, reaches 3 to 4 1/2 feet tall and wide, with 6 1/2 inch white flowers held tall above deep green foliage that turns mahogany red in autumn for a long period.
Jetstream from First Editions is a favorite of Bailey Nursery’s Ryan McEnaney for its dense growth and strong stems that display abundant flowers without flopping. He also loves its “out of this world” deep red fall color.
Gatsby Series Proven Winners’ collection averaging 5 to 6 feet tall includes Gatsby Gal, with large white flowers evolving to pink, Gatsby Pink, whose flowers go pink quickly, Gatsby Moon with fully double white flowers aging to green, and Gatsby Star with star-like panicles similar to Snowflake that look like lace.
Snow Queen has airy panicles of white and green in a rounded form about 4 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide.
Grow a dwarf hydrangea in pots and small spaces.
Bold Foliage Color
Little Honey How can oakleaf hydrangeas get any better? How about a blast of lime foliage? Little Honey stays a modest 3 to 4 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide. Acid yellow leaves mellow to chartreuse in summer. The creamy flowers are smaller than some. But the foliage show more than makes up for it, finishing the year with a blaze of red, orange, and maroon in fall. Offer this one some extra afternoon shade.
For green flowers, try a Limelight hydrangea.