Dee Bishop, Smith County Master Gardener, writes a weekly column which is published in the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is showing its colors right now. In fall the huge leaves, that look like giant oak leaves, turn brilliant hues of garnet red. You can’t help noticing them because of the largeness of their leaves. In spring, you can’t help noticing their huge flower clusters. Everything about these shrubs is ‘huge’.
Oakleaf hydrangeas are a fairly recent arrival to Tyler and more and more people are adding them to their gardens. They are native to eastern North America and,easily grown. If you want a shrub that is a knock-out all year, even in winter, oakleaf hydrangea is for you. Their branches shed the old bark and look very lovely as the bark peels and curls to expose the deeper colors underneath, sort of like a birch tree.
I absolutely love the huge snowy-white blooms in spring with their lovely soft fragrance and how they turn pink as they age. I always cut a bouquet to dry for my fireplace mantel.
Growing conditions for oakleaf hydrangeas are simple. Give them good soil that has been amended with lots of compost. They need well-drained soil that can be kept fairly moist in the heat of summer for the first couple of years or until they are grown in really well, then they will take a fair amount of drought. They will wilt when they need a drink, at that time you will need to give them a deep soaking. Mulching them with a thick layer of pine straw will help keep the soil moist. Like other hydrangeas, they need shade in summer, (not winter).
Oakleaf hydrangeas are clumpers and you can dig up small ones at the base to place around your yard or to give a friend—or—you can let the clumps enlarge and enjoy huge, 10 ft. x 10 ft., plants that bloom huge (up to eighteen inch) flowers. If you have a privacy fence in a shaded backyard, an oakleaf hydrangea will look beautiful in a corner. Plant daffodil bulbs underneath for extra color in late winter and early spring. The shrub will hide the ugly foliage of the bulbs. Your shade must be deciduous though. Neither the hydrangeas nor the bulbs will do well under an evergreen like a live oak.
If your yard won’t allow such a huge shrub, don’t despair. Oakleaf hydrangeas now come in dwarf sizes as small as three by three feet and all in between. There is one out there just for you. If you want to see how they look, come on down to our gardens and take a look. They are in all our gardens and there is even a dwarf one in the shade garden near all the camellias; so check them out.