Oakleaf hydrangea: my favorite plant

See also: Native Plants
Oakleaf hydrangea is my hero. There is no question landscape architects are enamored with oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).  The virtues of this native plant are numerous and yet oakleaf hydrangea has not become so saturated in its use as to become mundane.  If every landscape in every garden I walked by had oakleaf hydrangea, it would be okay.


Oakleaf hydrangea flower. Click for larger.

Here are the reasons oakleaf hydrangea is my favorite:

  • Oakleaf hydrangea is native to the southeastern United States. Sometimes we become so strict in our rules that we lose sight of what really matters. Exotic plants are not explicitly bad for the environment. What is bad for the environment is the introduction of invasive plants, whether they are native or exotic.  From an aesthetic viewpoint, many exotics do not fit into the existing natural flora. By way of example, consider banana trees in the Piedmont...out of place. Happily, oakleaf hydrangea fit beautifully into almost any landscape design from northern Florida northward to the limit of their cold hardiness (Zone 5a).
  • Oakleaf hydrangeas provide true four season interest. Plants with three-season interest are extremely valuable in landscape design...oakleaf hydrangea is brilliant in all seasons.  White blooms emerge in late spring and age gracefully into fall.  Fall color reminds one of their favorite cabernet, rich and dark. The exfoliating bark arrives as the plant begins to mature, yielding a craggy visage as the leaves give way to winter.
  • Oakleaf hydrangea provides good cover for wildlife. Urban gardens are often an intersection for birds and the cats who hunt them. Complex branching structures in shrubs allow birds a quick place to flee from danger, and Hydrangea quercifolia provides great cover.
  • Oakleaf hydrangea is beautiful in the landscape. Flowers that change throughout the season, excellent fall foliage, and exfoliating bark have all been covered, but individual pieces do not make great design unless there is cohesion and form.  Oakleaf hydrangea should not be pruned; plant it where it can reach its natural, informal shape.


Oakleaf hydrangea quercifolia

Oakleaf hydrangea in the garden - old, mature, and huge. Click for larger.

Avoid planting oakleaf hydrangea too deeply (and a word about deer).
Hydrangea quercifolia is tough and will handle conditions that cause macrophyllas to fail. You can plant it in some afternoon sun. Oakleaf hydrangea prefers rich, acidic soil with plenty of moisture, but will also survive in ordinary garden soil.  Insects do not trouble it.  There are two things to watch out for when it comes to oakleaf hydrangea:

  1. Deer like to eat oakleaf hydrangea.  I have seen deer ignore every plant in a garden while making a nightly snack out of the oakleafs.
  2. Most oakleaf hydrangea are lost during winter as a result of planting too deeply. consider taking a look at this: cause of winter death in oakleaf hydrangea and how to plant to avoid it.

About Barrie

Barrie earned both his Bachelor's (1990) and Master's (2006) degrees in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia. His favorite plant is the oakleaf hydrangea.