June Plant of the Month: Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Submitted by Carol Reese, UT Extension horticulture specialist, Western Region

People are drawn to hydrangeas for their showy flowers. While oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) produces those abundantly, it doesn’t stop there. This native shrub goes on to warm the autumn landscape when the foliage turns shades of wine red, orange and deep burgundy. Once the leaves fall, the bark on mature specimens is showy, peeling in papery layers of tawny browns and cinnamon. 

Flowers appear late spring or early summer depending on region or variations in weather and the onset of spring. The creamy white flowers are born in showy cone shaped panicles, some fading to respectable pinks as they age. ‘Alice’, ‘Snowflake’, and ‘Snow Queen’ are a few of the selections known for their especially spectacular floral displays. 

Oakleaf hydrangea can be grown in full sun in cooler parts of the state, but in most areas it is happier in partial shade. Too much deep shade may reduce the number of blooms, though. Good drainage is essential. While some cultivars may reach 10 to 12 feet with age, a good average is 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Dwarf cultivars about half that size are available, such as ‘Pee Wee’ and ‘Sikes Dwarf’, but the most exciting compact forms are ‘Munchkin’ and ‘Ruby Slippers’.  These are noted for their white flowers drying to a rosy pink, providing color for several months. 

If you find yourself drawn to plants with golden foliage, ‘Little Honey’ will be your tastiest cup of tea. This dwarf form’s brilliant leaves will stay golden throughout the summer if placed in at least half a day of sun. In deeper shade, you will have to content yourself with a few weeks of golden glow through the spring months.  Flowers and fall color are dependable as well. 

A display of ‘Little Honey’ can be seen at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson. They are located under a couple of oaks north of the big planting of hardy bananas behind the center. Walk east from it to see a group of mature oakleaf hydrangeas linking two large oaks. 

Make plans to see this display and other beautiful ornamental plantings July 12 during the center’s annual Summer Celebration. Nearly 3,000 gardening enthusiasts are expected to attend the combination indoor/outdoor program. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children 17 and under. For more information, visit the website: http://west.tennessee.edu/events/ and click on the link for the Summer Celebration.

Carol Reese is the Western Region Ornamental Horticulture Specialist for University of Tennessee Extension. Her office is located in the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson. The UT Gardens located in Knoxville and Jackson are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. Their mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, collections, educational programs and research trials. The gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public.

See http://utgardens.tennessee.edu/  and http://westtennessee.tennessee.edu/ornamentals/ for more information.


Carol Reese, UT Extension, 731-425-4767

Patricia McDaniels, UTIA Marketing and Communications Services, 615-835-4570