Go Native with Oakleaf Hydrangeas

White blooms on oakleaf hydrangea.
Beautiful white blooms on native oakleaf hydrangea.

During midsummer, the showy pink and blue pom-poms of bigleaf (or mophead) hydrangeas try to overshadow their equally beautiful and even more versatile cousin, the oakleaf hydrangea. Native to the southeastern U.S., oakleaf hydrangeas offer year-round beauty with their seasons of blooms, foliage, and peeling bark.

Not only are oakleaf hydrangea gorgeous, they’re low-maintenance and easy to grow. Here’s what you need to know about growing native oakleaf hydrangeas in your yard or garden.

About Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are very similar in care and cultivation to other hydrangeas, but they offer several distinct advantages over their mopheaded cousins, including:

  • Native Plant: Oakleaf are one of the few hydrangeas native to the United States.
  • Cold Hardy: Oakleafs can tolerate colder weather, and can be grown farther north, than other hydrangeas. They’re winter hardy to zone 5.
  • Oakleaf blossoms turning pink.
    Oakleaf blossoms turning pink.
  • Drought Tolerant: Oakleaf hydrangeas also hold up better to dry weather and sandy soil than other types.
  • Sun Tolerant: Oakleafs can also handle more sun than bigleaf varieties.
  • Fall Foliage: The dramatic, large leaves of oakleaf hydrangea are named because of their similarity to the elegant leaves of oak trees. In the fall, those leaves turn the most gorgeous shades of red, orange, and burgundy.
  • Peeling Bark: On mature oakleaf hydrangeas, the bark often peels to reveal a rich, dark brown layer, which is pretty during the winter.
  • Long Blooming Period: Oakleafs bloom from late spring through early summer, and if you don’t cut them, the spent blossoms often dry right on the plant and last into late fall.
  • Excellent Cut Flowers: All hydrangeas make good dried flowers, and oakleafs are no exception! Cut and dry them for year-round arrangements.
  • Insect and Disease Resistant: Oakleaf hydrangeas are nearly problem free from disease and pests.
Red fall foliage on oakleaf hydrangea.
Gorgeous red fall foliage on oakleaf hydrangea.

Types of Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas come in two forms – single blossom and double blossom. Single blossom varieties include ‘Snow Queen,’ ‘Alice,’ and the dwarf-sized ‘PeeWee.’ Double blossom varieties such as ‘Snowflake’ have multiple florets and boast the longest bloom season.

All oakleaf hydrangeas are white, but the blooms often turn subtle shades of pink or brown as they age.

Peeling bark on oakleaf hydrangea
Peeling bark gives winter interest to oakleaf hydrangeas.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Growing Tips

For the most part, you can have success with oakleaf hydrangeas by following the growing tips outlined in our article on How to Grow Hydrangeas. However, here are few extra secrets to success with oakleafs:

  • Daytime Sun and Afternoon Shade: Like other hydrangeas, oakleafs will grow in varied light conditions, making them popular in shady gardens. However, a little extra sun will make the fall foliage much more colorful. Try to plant them in an area that receives full morning sun, with a little afternoon shade during the hottest part of summer.
  • Summer Heat: Although they’re hardy to zone 5, oakleaf hydrangeas bloom best when there’s some summer heat.
  • Pruning: Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on last year’s growth, so save pruning for midsummer after they bloom, so they have time to grow new branches to bloom next year.
  • Beware of Root Rot: All hydrangeas need well draining soil, but the oakleaf needs extra good drainage to prevent root rot. Keep them watered, but don’t let them get soggy.

Further Information