Notable Natives: The Oakleaf Hydrangea

Notable Natives: The Oakleaf Hydrangea

A well planned Cape Cod landscape should include a balance of plants that are native to the northeast, along with those that originate in other parts of the world. So over the next few months the staff at Country Garden wants to call your attention to several of our native plants that add so much to a Cape garden. This week, we focus on the oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia.

Oakleaf hydrangeas grow well in full sun to part-shade, so they are adaptable to many parts of the garden. The straight species, H. quercifolia, typically grows to just over six feet tall and eight feet wide, making it a good plant for placing along the edges of a wooded area or planted in with other flowering shrubs in a mixed border. There are shorter cultivars such as Munchkin (3′ tall) and Ruby Slippers (4′ tall), and a number of named varieties that offer different growth habits and flower shapes. But one of the most exciting characteristics about oak leaf hydrangeas is their fall color.

When grown in at least four hours of direct sun, oakleaf hydrangeas will turn shades of red, burgundy, and even purple in autumn.
Who needs the invasive burning bush when you can have bright fall color on a native plant that also flowers?

Oakleaf hydrangeas are easy to grow and pretty much pest free. Like any other hydrangea, they are prone to leaf-spot if the irrigation is set to hit their foliage too frequently, so water deeply less often to avoid this problem. Like the blue hydrangeas, the flower buds on this native shrub are formed the summer before so if you prune these plants do it before the end of July in order to avoid removing next year’s blossoms.

Like other plants with white flowers, the oakleaf hydrangea is a good one to put where it will catch the rays of the rising or setting sun. This is also a great plant for a mixed-shrub privacy border near a fire pit.
Oakleaf hydrangeas will grow in dappled-shade gardens and they thrive in normal Cape soils.
Most oakleaf flowers turn pinkish as they age.
Don’t be afraid to grow oakleaf hydrangeas in full sun. In fact, the fall color is even more brilliant when they are grown in sunny spaces.

For those interested in growing a mixed border of native plants, the oakleaf hydrangea combines well with summersweet (Clethra alnifolia and cultivars), inkberry holly (Ilex glabra), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occientalis), and the native Viburnums such as dentatum and nudum. Use the native foam flower (Tiarella varieties), coral bells (Heuchera) and sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) for “socks and shoes companion plants,” and you’ll have a lovely native design that can be augmented with other perennials and annuals as you see fit.

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