Oakleaf hydrangea – amazing fall color in the shade

Oakleaf hydrangea – a spot of early summer color in the shade

The Oakleaf hydrangea , Hydrangea quercifolia, is a dramatic, white-blooming shrub with four seasons of interest. Native to the eastern United States, it is a gorgeous and versatile deciduous shrub which provides a spectacular show all year round. Named after the shape of its beautiful leaves, it produces loads of creamy-white flowers, up to 12 in., in late spring and early summer – it’s blooming now. Lasting about 3-4 weeks, the elongated flower clusters gradually turn a dusty pink as fall approaches and they dry out. Crafters and flower arrangers love the dried flower heads. In fall, the foliage of deeply lobed, oak-like leaves steals the show by turning bronze, crimson or burgundy, making this flowering shrub one of the most attractive shrubs for the fall garden. As the leaves fall, they expose the rich brown exfoliating bark.

It is not picky about soil type, and appreciates the good drainage our sandy soils provide. It does not like a wet spot though, and will get root rot if it doesn’t get some drainage. Once established, it is somewhat drought tolerant. Mulch it well to keep the roots cool (almost all plants love a summer mulch!). Here in our muggy summers, it needs some shade, afternoon preferred. It blooms on old wood – the growth it produced the previous year – so if you really need to prune it (you usually won’t if you get the right variety), prune it right after it flowers. Because of our humidity, it might get some leaf spots, like most hydrangeas. This is mostly an aesthetic problem, the leaf spot won’t do much damage. Hygiene and no overhead watering are key to controlling this; clean up the leaves that fall to the ground and put them in the trash. Deer might munch on it, sadly. You can find varieties that get to anywhere from 3’ tall and wide, to 8’; there’s one for you. 

Striking leaves and texture – fabulous flowers – wonderful fall color – and beautiful peeling bark – this shrub really has it all. 

by Liz Nalle, contributor to the Coastal Point Newspaper

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