Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is, in my estimation, nearly the perfect garden plant. It has four-season interest. It is native to the American south. Oakleaf hydrangeas are easy to grow. It is found in relatively few gardens, making it somewhat unique.
Oakleaf hydrangea has blooms that last forever while aging more gracefully than most of us can dare hope. Planting oakleaf hydrangeas properly provides a solid start to years of good health for your hopefully beloved plant.
Planting and growing oakleaf hydrangeas is a relatively simple matter.
Assuming one doesn’t plant oakleaf hydrangeas in a desert, your chances of success are high. Oakleaf hydrangea prefers neutral to acidic soil, amended with lots of pine bark or coarse material. It also does better if given protection from afternoon sun.
Planting oakleaf hydrangeas in fall is best. It gives the plant the winter to settle in. Root growth continues in plants during winter, albeit more slowly than in spring and summer. Planting in spring is fine. The only dangerous time to plant oakleaf hydrangeas is in summer. This can be sorted with diligent daily watering.
Ideally, plant oakleaf hydrangeas in areas protected by afternoon sun.
Oakleaf hydrangea can handle more sun than mophead or lace-cap hydrangeas when established. However, if the goal is optimal growing conditions, forego areas with strong afternoon sun.
The Little Honey oakleaf hydrangea pictured below surprised me with how wonderful it can be in the landscape. I don’t normally favor bright foliage. Little Honey’s leaves will burn badly in the afternoon sun. With Little Honey, the more sun it gets the lighter the leaves will be. In most cases, a perfect situation might be morning sun and afternoon shade.
Plant oakleaf hydrangeas a little higher than the existing grade.
Many people make the mistake of planting too deeply. Tomatoes can be planted very deeply but not hydrangeas. You do not have to resort to the high mounds recommended for planting rhododendrons in the Deep South. Soil often settles after planting so adjust accordingly by planting an inch or two above the existing soil level.
If an oakleaf hydrangea has died…
The gardener most likely planted it in too much sun and didn’t water it enough or they planted it too deeply and winter root rot set in. In my experience, most oakleaf hydrangeas die due to poor drainage caused by planting too deeply. Often, the damage occurs in winter, when roots are not as active and the plant is dormant.
The solution lies in the points outlined herein. Well-drained soil, proper planting depth, and afternoon shade will greatly increase your chances of succeeding with your next oakleaf hydrangea. We’ve all lost a plant or two. The key is to learn from the experience and try again. Oakleaf hydrangea is worth it.