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New This Week

October 3, 2023

Week of Oct 2nd: Plant Highlight

Oakleaf Hydrangeas are beautiful natives with 4-season interest!

Oakleaf hydrangeas naturally occur in moist woods and along stream banks in the southeast.  The native range starts from the Carolinas down to Florida and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana.  This shrub is very adaptable to a wide range of sunlight, but in the South (zones 7-9) some degree of shade is best, whether it be dappled or afternoon reprieve.  Preferred soils include moist, acidic, fertile, well-draining – with importance on “well-draining,” while the shrub exists along stream banks and moist woods, it cannot tolerate wet feet as this can cause root rot.  Heavy clay soils hold water and don’t provide adequate drainage, make sure to amend the soil and plant high if this is the case for your planting site.  Once the shrub is established it is drought tolerant, but will appreciate water during very dry conditions. 

Fall foliage of Oakleaf Hydrangea. Photo credit:

Oakleaf hydrangeas are named after the similarity in leaf shape and fall color to that of the Northern Red Oak – a unique leaf shape and leathery texture compared to other hydrangea species.  The fall color is stunning and will give rich tones of burgundy and red to your garden.  The mature form of the shrub is multi-stemmed, upright and will usually grow wider than it does tall.  Oakleaf hydrangea (straight species) can grow up to 10 feet tall and wide, but don’t worry, if you don’t have room for this one, there are plenty of cultivars that mature to a more manageable size.  The outer layer of the mature stems exfoliate, revealing cinnamon colored bark and providing an interesting texture, which adds to winter appeal after the leaves have dropped.

Similar to panicle hydrangeas, the white inflorescences consist of many individual flowers and are clustered in a conical shape.  As the lightly fragrant blooms mature, the flower heads will slowly change to a pink-mauve color and eventually dry out through fall/winter to display a dried arrangement at the tips of the stems.  Oakleaf hydrangea is a shrub I personally prefer not to prune, I like the natural look of this rounded-mounded shrub and I appreciate the space it fills, but if pruning is necessary, it’s best to prune right after it blooms in summer.  Pruning at this time will allow the shrub to put on more growth for flowers the following year.  If pruning is done in spring, you risk eliminating flowers for that growing season.

Oakleaf hydrangea blooms are attractive to butterflies and other insects and songbirds eat the seeds.  The low-growing, suckering habit of the shrub provides habitat and protection for small animals to nest, roost, and take cover.  Unfortunately for gardeners living in an area of heavy deer pressure, deer also graze on this shrub, especially the tender tips, leaves, and flowers.  Other than deer grazing, this shrub is relatively pest and disease free.  Oakleaf hydrangeas work well in a natural landscape along a woodland edge, in groupings or mass plantings along a border, or paired with other woodland species in a garden bed with ferns, heuchera, azaleas, and rhododendrons. 

Below are the five types of oakleaf hydrangeas we have in stock.  While the hardiness (zones 5-9), sunlight, and soil conditions remain the same across the varieties, we’ll make note of any differences in size and bloom features to help you choose which one works best in your landscape.

Straight Species – This is the tried-and-true shrub that exists naturally in the southeast.  It will eventually grow to heights of 10 feet tall and wide, but usually reaches 6-8’ tall and wide in a landscape.

Snow Queen – A full-sized option that reaches a height of 6’ tall and up to 8’ wide and has strong stems to hold up large 8” long cones of blooms. 

Munchkin – A dwarf, compact variety only reaching 3-4 feet in height and width.  Inflorescences reaching 6.5” long aging to pink.

Pee Wee – A dwarf, compact variety with a rounded habit.  This one won’t grow as wide as it does tall, for those tighter garden spots.  Reaching 3-4’ tall and 2-3’ wide. 

Ruby Slippers – A dwarf, compact variety reaching 3-4’ tall and 3-5’ wide.  Upright inflorescences reaching 9.5” long.  White blooms will fade to a ruby-red throughout summer.  

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