Go Native with Oakleaf Hydrangeas

White blooms on oakleaf hydrangea.
Beautiful white blooms on native oakleaf hydrangea.

During midsummer, the showy pink and blue pom-poms of bigleaf (or mophead) hydrangeas try to overshadow their equally beautiful and even more versatile cousin, the oakleaf hydrangea. Native to the southeastern U.S., oakleaf hydrangeas offer year-round beauty with their seasons of blooms, foliage, and peeling bark.

Not only are oakleaf hydrangea gorgeous, they’re low-maintenance and easy to grow. Here’s what you need to know about growing native oakleaf hydrangeas in your yard or garden.

About Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are very similar in care and cultivation to other hydrangeas, but they offer several distinct advantages over their mopheaded cousins, including:

  • Native Plant: Oakleaf are one of the few hydrangeas native to the United States.
  • Cold Hardy: Oakleafs can tolerate colder weather, and can be grown farther north, than other hydrangeas. They’re winter hardy to zone 5.
  • Oakleaf blossoms turning pink.
    Oakleaf blossoms turning pink.
  • Drought Tolerant: Oakleaf hydrangeas also hold up better to dry weather and sandy soil than other types.
  • Sun Tolerant: Oakleafs can also handle more sun than bigleaf varieties.
  • Fall Foliage: The dramatic, large leaves of oakleaf hydrangea are named because of their similarity to the elegant leaves of oak trees. In the fall, those leaves turn the most gorgeous shades of red, orange, and burgundy.
  • Peeling Bark: On mature oakleaf hydrangeas, the bark often peels to reveal a rich, dark brown layer, which is pretty during the winter.
  • Long Blooming Period: Oakleafs bloom from late spring through early summer, and if you don’t cut them, the spent blossoms often dry right on the plant and last into late fall.
  • Excellent Cut Flowers: All hydrangeas make good dried flowers, and oakleafs are no exception! Cut and dry them for year-round arrangements.
  • Insect and Disease Resistant: Oakleaf hydrangeas are nearly problem free from disease and pests.
Red fall foliage on oakleaf hydrangea.
Gorgeous red fall foliage on oakleaf hydrangea.

Types of Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas come in two forms – single blossom and double blossom. Single blossom varieties include ‘Snow Queen,’ ‘Alice,’ and the dwarf-sized ‘PeeWee.’ Double blossom varieties such as ‘Snowflake’ have multiple florets and boast the longest bloom season.

All oakleaf hydrangeas are white, but the blooms often turn subtle shades of pink or brown as they age.

Peeling bark on oakleaf hydrangea
Peeling bark gives winter interest to oakleaf hydrangeas.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Growing Tips

For the most part, you can have success with oakleaf hydrangeas by following the growing tips outlined in our article on How to Grow Hydrangeas. However, here are few extra secrets to success with oakleafs:

  • Daytime Sun and Afternoon Shade: Like other hydrangeas, oakleafs will grow in varied light conditions, making them popular in shady gardens. However, a little extra sun will make the fall foliage much more colorful. Try to plant them in an area that receives full morning sun, with a little afternoon shade during the hottest part of summer.
  • Summer Heat: Although they’re hardy to zone 5, oakleaf hydrangeas bloom best when there’s some summer heat.
  • Pruning: Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on last year’s growth, so save pruning for midsummer after they bloom, so they have time to grow new branches to bloom next year.
  • Beware of Root Rot: All hydrangeas need well draining soil, but the oakleaf needs extra good drainage to prevent root rot. Keep them watered, but don’t let them get soggy.

Further Information

29 COMMENTS

  1. Our oakleaf hydrangeas stared out the spring looking beautiful with lots of new growth. Then, they died. What could have happened to them? We had one in Arkansas that got very little care and it was gorgeous.

  2. Can we grow oakleaf hydrangeas on the central coast of California. We are only three miles off the Pacific Ocean, so temperatures never get real warm, and don’t vary a great deal throught the year. Our soil is very sandy

  3. i live in the south of England and have (I think) an Oakleaf Hydrangea. It produced one flower one year about 4 years ago but since then, despite health and vigorous production of leaves, it has never again flowered. I cut it back every spring and it grows back again without a problem.

  4. Linda Bates- Re little to no bloom – you may be cutting off the buds when you prune your oak leaf hydrangea. Try skipping the pruning this year, then only prune right after flowering in the future.

  5. I planted two oak leaf hydrangeas and last year one died. They are in a shady spot- Cincinnati soil- which is more clay and alkaline – but pretty good in general. I was gone for a month this summer so do not know if the lack of rain was an issue. The second bush seems to be dying- any thoughts? I have watered it only- weeded around

  6. We had several oak leaf hydrangeas planted last spring. They are covered with spots. We have been treating them for a fungus with little results. They also have not produced any flowers. We’ve had a very wet season and our soil is mostly clay. Will they come back spot free next year?

    Lisa Sheraw

  7. What is root structure of oak leaf hydrange? Does it produce roots larger than the plant and do they invade an area larger than their circumference?

  8. Planted 2 decent sized oak leaf hydrangeas 2 summers ago. Planted them near base of porch where they get more mid and late day sun. They remained gorgeous with green leaves and showy white blooms the whole summer. Unknowingly pruned. Of course, the next summer they were leafy, but no blooms. Did not make that same mistake again. This summer, they leafed out and blooms flowered, but never turned white and started to turn brown within a couple of weeks. Leaves became spotted and some orange and red tinging throughout summer. Had an Oakleaf Hydrangea at a previous home. Got morning sun. Grew nearly free of pruning and any form of maintenance for years and was an absolute beauty spring to fall, so I’m a bit dumbfounded. We live in central TN. A lot of clay in soil and I must say we have had an unusually wet spring and summer and early fall. Any thoughts?

  9. I have a beautiful oak leaf hydrangea that is out growing the area it was planted in. This year I need to cut it back and move it. When would be the best time of year to do this? It is getting full western exposure right now. Would it do well with eastern exposure? I live in the Raleigh area.
    Thank you so much.
    Joe Zak

  10. I just moved into a house in the Detroit area. I have 8 Oakleaf Hydrangeas. I have never had them before. I do have a couple questions. I think the previous owners may have planted them for sole purpose of selling the house. I like the placement and the idea of the beautiful colors. The branches are scraggly and the leaves look sickly. Do I need to fertilize the plants? If so, when would I fertilize and what kind of fertilizer would I use? Should I be concerned with the leaves and their spots and curling edges? I need guidance…Thanks

  11. Having a problem getting our oak leaf hydrangea to blossom.
    We live in Western New York, the past winter was mild, the plant gets good sun. It’s blossomed in the past but hasn’t in the last few years. Any advice?

  12. Question. I have a mop head hydrangea with several broken branches. The hydrangea is very old. Should I bind the branches and let them bloom or should I prune them so the edges have a clean cut?

  13. My oak leaf hydrangeas were doing really well. Planted in an area that gets morning sun and shade all afternoon. I went out back yesterday and noticed multiple black leaves on several of my plants. They also do not look very good, like they have lost multiple leaves. We have had a lot of rain this season and I wonder could this be the reason they are not doing well? Too much rain?

  14. Our oakleaf hydrangea has only one blossom on it so far. What can we do encourage more? Is it too late to fertilize? Otherwise, it is beautiful in shape and size. My husband pruned it pretty far back last fall.

  15. I received one pot of Oakleaf Hydrangea 3 years ago that was blooming. I put in ground after bloomed in a filtered sun area and it has spread drasticly but has never bloomed. I fertilize it in spring. What can I try to make it bloom? Thanks.

  16. I have 3 oak leaf hydrangeas. The leaves on one have begun to turn red in early July , it is wilting and appears to be dying. The other two are very close to it and seem fine. What should I do to save this bush. We love it’s blooms and color.

  17. HI there, I have 2 beautiful oakleaf hydrangeas and they are 10 years old and 1 is far older than that, maybe 13 years. They were moved to a new property in 2009, and have never bloomed here. The older 1 has only bloomed once in the old location, which was beside the house with morning sun. They are both now in full sun area, quite hot at times. Doing great as far as foliage goes but no blooms. I keep them watered and have built up the soil under them with peat moss and leaf mulch over the years. Just to mention that I live in British Columbia, Canada about 30 minutes from the Washington border. Ant Tips?
    They were under the cloak of huge grand fir trees for many years that were sacking alot of the moisture up, but those trees all came down last summer, and this has seen a huge improvement in the shrubs foliage. Thanks Barb

    • Hi, David,
      We recommend not growing oakleaf hydrangea near deer.
      Here’s more information: https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/2532/
      Thanks for writing!

    • Hi, Martina!
      We provide questions to Danny on a regular basis. We’re not able to answer every question due to the high volume of mail we receive, but we sure do our best. 🙂
      Thanks so very much for visiting TodaysHomeowner.com.

  18. I am wanting to plant my newly purchased oak leaf hydrangea under a grouping of 3 tall pine trees. The trees are spaced 6 feet apart in a triangle spacing. My fear is that digging the hole to plant it will disturbed the tree roots. Also would it receive enough nourishment so close to trees? I am wondering if I could make a mound of soil at center of the triangle to plant it staying clear of tree trunks. I need advise on this as I don’t want to damage my precious trees.
    Thanking you in advance.

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