May Blooms in My Georgia Garden: Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

I've always said that my favorite hydrangea is our native Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia. Honestly, this shrub is beautiful in every season! In Spring, new leaves emerge that are thick, rich green, and shaped like an oak leaf. Soon thereafter, bloom buds begin to develop, and you can tell early on which stems will have a bloom. Bloom size varies from plant to plant, but each bloom is a panicle shaped cluster of smaller flowers, all creamy white. With the species, this panicle can be smallish when compared to some of the named cultivars, but it is very beautiful. Pollinators just love it.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'

There are a number of named selections, of which I have only a few. The hardest one for me to find was Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake.' Large panicles of blossoms have one flower on top of another, giving it the appearance of double blooms. This plant took a little longer to establish and bloom for me, because it receives no supplemental water other than the little bit of rain we get. This year we were blessed with plenty of rain, so my Snowflake Hydrangea is sporting beautiful fluffy blossom clusters like the one in the photo.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice'

The most spectacular of these Oakleaf Hydrangeas has to be the cultivar known as 'Alice.' Blooms on the Alice Oakleaf Hydrangea are gigantic. These voluptuous blooms spikes can be 12 inches long or more. I'd have to say this one is my most favorite of all. If I had to come up with a disadvantage of this hydrangea, it would be that the blooms are so heavy that they weigh down the branch. Some of the branches with the largest blooms are laying along the ground due to the weight of the flower spikes. I should prop them up with something.

As they dry, the creamy white blooms age to a rosy shade of pink, unless your summer heat and lack of rainfall cause them to turn a crispy brown instead. Fall foliage is spectacular on all the Oakleaf Hydrangeas. With onset of cold weather, the large leaves change to a deep burgundy color, quite visible from a distance. And in winter, after the leaves fall, you'll notice the exfoliating cinnamon colored bark.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Blooms Age to a Rose Pink
Oakleaf Hydrangea is my favorite hydrangea, not only for its beauty but perhaps more importantly for its ease of growing. Mophead Hydrangeas are quite fussy. "Oh, it's too hot!", "Oh, I'm so thirsty!", "Oh, my soil is not right!" they seem to be saying to me whenever I glance in their direction. And if I don't give in to their demands, they will punish me, by first wilting, then drying up. Or they won't bloom. And sometimes they even just up and die on me.

Not so, with the Oakleaf Hydrangea. They don't mind our dry clay soil. They don't complain when it doesn't rain. Once established, Oakleaf Hydrangeas are very drought tolerant. And although they naturally occur in the woods, Oakleaf Hydrangeas will grow quite happily in full sun. My Alice gets the worst--full sun in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day. Yes, the Oakleaf Hydrangea is truly beautiful in every season. My gardens are mostly shady, so I have all kinds of hydrangeas, but my most favorite of all is definitely the Oakleaf Hydrangea.

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