Hydrangea quercifolia (hy-DRAN-jee-uh kwer-se-FOH-lee-uh) is a deciduous shrub in the family Hydrangeaceae (hy-drain-jee-AY-see-eye).
Quercifolia is the only hydrangea native to the United States.
Oakleaf Hydrangea (its common name) grows naturally throughout the southeastern states in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.
In nature, you’ll find this Hydrangea plant along the banks of streams and rivers throughout Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia. It also grows well in ravines, along bluffs, and moist woods.
The genus name comes from the Greek word ‘hydor’, which means water. The Greek word ‘aggeion’ refers to the fruit of the plant which is capsular and cup-like.
The species draw from the Greek word, ‘Quercus,’ meaning oak. The plant gets its common name from the fact that its leaves are very similar to those of oak trees.
Growing Oakleaf Hydrangea Quercifolia and Care
Size & Growth
This compact, attractive shrub grows to a height of 6′ to 8′ feet tall with an equal spread. There are also dwarf varieties:
- Sikes Dwarf
- Pee Wee
… these grow two or three feet high and wide.
Flowering Bloom Time & Fragrance
Oakleaf Hydrangeas come in both double blossom and single blossom. This plant has a very long bloom season and produces many florets.
The plant’s scentless flowers begin as white and transition gradually to pink and/or purple. The flowers grow in pyramid-shaped clusters.
Blossoms appear in early summer (May) and continue blooming through mid-summer.
The showy flowers make excellent cut flowers and also dried for use in dry arrangements. Alternately, you can leave them on the plant in the fall. They will dry on the branches and add late fall and winter interest.
The leaves have 3 to 7 lobes and are a deep shade of green. They are lush and green throughout the growing season and transition to provide beautiful fall color as winter approaches.
The plant’s branches are exfoliating, meaning that the outer skin curls up and falls off on its own revealing dark brown limbs beneath. This trait helps add winter interest.
Light & Temperature
Oak Leaf Hydrangea is a woodland plant and likes to grow in partial shade to full sun. These plants do best in shade gardens, but can also tolerate quite a variety of light conditions.
If you are especially eager to have fall color, a sunny location is better. For the most part, these plants do well with full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon.
Watering & Feeding
This plant needs a moderate amount of water and requires low maintenance.
Use a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) broadcast around the plants one time early in the spring and again in mid-summer.
Soil & Transplanting
Oak Leaf Hydrangea is easy to grow in well-drained soil that is rich in organic material. It’s a good idea to provide a thick mulch in the summer to help the soil retain its moisture.
Although these plants like consistently moist soil, you must be sure that it is well draining. If they are left to stand in water, these plants will develop root rot. They do very well in sandy soil.
They prefer slightly acidic soil. A pH range of 5.5 to 6.5 is ideal.
Grooming & Maintenance
Flowers appear on old wood, just as with other types of hydrangeas. Take care not to prune back old wood as this will limit the number of flowers the plant produces.
For the most part, pruning is not necessary. If you want to prune your plant, do so immediately after flowering and avoid dramatic pruning.
If stems become damaged during the winter months, trim them back early in the spring.
Although Oak Leaf Hydrangea is winter hardy down to hardiness zone 5, it’s a good idea to provide it with some shelter and protection during the winter months.
Choose a sheltered location for your plant, and consider heavy mulching and wrapping in burlap if you expect the temperature to fall below zero.
How To Propagate Hydrangea quercifolia
Start Oak Leaf Hydrangeas:
- From seed
- Rooted in water
- Rooted in soil
- Grown through the use of layering
Of all of the methods, layering seems to be the most successful and the simplest.
Growing Hydrangea Plant From Layering
- To grow hydrangeas by layering, locate very low, new, flexible stems around the base of the plant.
- Leave the stem or branch attached to the parent plant
- Remove all of the leaves from the stem except for those at the end.
- Carefully bend the stem down from its parent plant until it comes in contact with the soil
- Dig a shallow trench
- Cover the stem with soil
- Place a brick or rock over it to hold it in contact with the soil.
- Water regularly and check frequently to determine when the plant begins to set roots
- Once the stem starts to grow roots, cut it off at the base of the mother plant.
- Leave the “new” plant in its location for several weeks.
- Once cut from the mother plant the “rooted cutting” may begin to suffer.
The cutting should soon begin supporting itself in the soil. Once the cutting starts to rally, dig it up and place it in its own pot or move it to a new location.
Remember cuttings will need protection from weather extremes.
It’s best to start the propagation process early in the growing season so that cuttings have enough time to become established before winter arrives.
Oakleaf Hydrangea Pest or Disease Problems
This hardy native plant experiences very few, if any diseases or insect problems.
When planted close together or kept too wet, plants may be susceptible to powdery mildew or leaf blight. Weakened plants may experience some problem with spider mites and aphids.
Are Oak Leaf Hydrangeas Toxic or Poisonous to People, Kids, Pets?
All hydrangeas are considered toxic. Ingestion of any part of the plant may cause diarrhea, vomiting and/or depression.
Keep plants away from dogs, cats, horses, and children. Wash up thoroughly after handling or pruning.
Is Hydrangea quercifolia Considered Invasive?
This native plant is not considered invasive in the United States. The oak leaf is recommended as a replacement for Nandina, a similar plant considered invasive.
Best Uses For Oakleaf Quercifolia
Oak Leaf Hydrangea does equally well when kept on its own as a specimen plant or used in mass plantings along foundations or as hedges.
They are also excellent for naturalizing in woodland areas or in small yards dedicated to encouraging native plants.
Oak Leaf Hydrangeas are an excellent choice for a native plant garden.
They are far more cold hardy than large leaf hydrangeas and also far more drought tolerant and tolerant of poor soil.
If you have a sunny yard, an Oak Leaf Hydrangea is far more likely to succeed than a large leaf hydrangea.
It’s fall foliage, and peeling bark add even more interest to this hardy and beautiful plant.