The Plant Native

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Highlights

There are hundreds of species of hydrangeas worldwide. Only a few are native to North America, including Oakleaf Hydrangeas. These gorgeous shrubs deliver both memorable leaves and long-lasting flowers. In the fall, their leaves turn to shades of copper and fiery red. Many non-native hydrangeas can be finicky and require special care—but not the Oakleaf. Plant a few in sun or part-sun and enjoy beauty for years.

Sun to part sun
5-20′ tall, depending on species
Amazing fall color
Hydrangea quercifolia
Oakleaf Hydrangeas are jaw-dropping shrubs, worthy of highly visible places

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Table of Contents

Oakleaf Hydrangeas are gorgeous shrubs that look great year-round. They are perennials, meaning plant once, and enjoy them for years—even decades. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the Oakleaf Hydrangea and guide you through the process of planting and caring for this remarkable native shrub.

Why plant an Oakleaf Hydrangea?

Oakleaf Hydrangeas are native plants, or plants that have lived in North America for thousands (if not millions!) of years. The native plants in our areas have seen and survived every blizzard, heat wave, and drought in their home area. They have the DNA and experience to thrive in our gardens. Planting native is important for many reasons, including:

  1. Native plants give bugs, pollinators, and birds the homes and food they need to survive
  2. Native plants and trees require minimal work, water, and care to thrive (especially compared to lawns.) After being established, all Oakleaf Hydrangeas need is rain to thrive.
  3. Native plants are GORGEOUS. They have been hiding in plain sight and their beauty is undeniable. Explore our library to find your faves.

Native vs. non-native hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are a go-to for landscaping, and there are dozens of types to pick from. The majority of the hydrangeas you see (with the round blooms) are native to Japan.

Non-native hydrangeas require lots of specialty care; plant an Oakleaf Hydrangea instead and save yourself time and money.

Non-native hydrangea care can be a pain

Martha Stewart’s non-native hydrangea recommendations include consistent moisture, checking the soil PH, and too much sun (or not enough!) On the other hand, Oakleaf Hydrangeas can handle periodic droughts and require no fertilizing.

Non-Native Hydrangeas

  • Most non-native hydrangeas are from Asia
  • Can require annoying extra care, including extra watering and finicky, specialty fertilizers to get blue flowers

Native Oakleaf Hydrangea

  1. Oakleaf Hydrangeas have grown for thousands of years in what is now the southeastern US
  2. They thrive in their home area. Once they are established, Oakleaf Hydrangeas thrive with just rain.

Oakleaf Hydrangeas throughout the seasons

Oakleaf Hydrangeas transform themselves throughout the year. It is rewarding to fill our yards and parks with plants that change with the seasons. Their changes help enliven and surprise us, offering new vistas outside our windows every few months (as opposed to a boring boxwood evergreen shrub, which sits forever in its single, boring state.)

Spring

In the spring, bright green shoots emerge from the tips of branches. These first leaves look like green flowers! The leaves emerge from the cone over the spring, changing to a vibrant green. 

Summer

Oakleaf Hydrangeas flowers last for MONTHS. After the leaves come the large, cone-shaped flowers. The blooms are large—bigger than your hand. Each provides lots of space for multiple pollinators.

Fall

In the fall, Oakleaf Hydrangea leaves turn into firey shades of copper and red. Because their leaves are so large, the effect is stunning. Plant them alongside some blue-purple Asters for a perfect fall pairing.

Native range

The Oakleaf Hydrangea is native to the southeastern United States, thriving in regions from Louisiana to Florida and as far north as Virginia. Due to climate change, Oakleaf Hydrangeas now grow in areas as far north as New York.

What to Plant with Oakleaf Hydrangeas

These shrubs are best paired with other native plants that like similar partial sunlight. Trees like Sweetbay Magnolia and Southern Catalpa, shrubs like Mountain Laurel and Ninebark alongside flowers like Aster and Bee Balm are great pairings.

native-aster-flowers-with-a-butterfly-garden

Aster

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Bee Balm

mountain-laurel-native-shrub-flower

Mountain Laurel

ninebark-5755860_1280

Ninebark

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Southern Catalpa

A white Sweetbay Magnolia flower blooming, photographed growing on a branch of the Sweetbay Magnolia tree.

Sweetbay Magnolia

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Sweetshrub

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Winterberry

Now you’re ready to plant an Oakleaf Hydrangea (or a few!) by using these tips and inspiration. Hydrangeas are known for being stunning yard additions—but only the Oakleaf Hydrangea is native to North America. Spend a morning planting this native shrub and watch it return decades of beauty, year-round.

Looking for ideas on what else to plant? Explore our regional native plant guides:

UPDATED —
04/01/2024
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