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Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf hydrangea: my favorite plant

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 it 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
Oakleaf hydrangea flower

Why 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. Banana trees in the Piedmont region, in my opinion, look out of place.

Young flower.

Happily, oakleaf hydrangea fits beautifully into almost any landscape design from northern Florida northward to the limit of cold hardiness (Zone 5a).

True four-season interest. Plants with three-season interest are extremely valuable in landscape design…oakleaf hydrangea is good 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 makes it worthwhile all year. Resist pruning. Allow it to grow into its natural, informal shape. If it does become too large, cut it back drastically every few years.

Oakleaf hydrangea quercifolia
Probably cultivar Alice – old, mature, and huge.

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. It 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 it. I have seen deer ignore every plant in a garden while making a nightly snack out of the quercifolia.
  2. Most deaths occur during winter as a result of planting too deeply. Consider taking a look at this: the cause of winter death and how to plant to avoid it.

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