Blooms of an oakleaf hydrangea shrub.

Oakleaf hydrangea bloom with sterile and fertile flowers. Photo: Miri Talabac

Updated: March 6, 2023

About oakleaf hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia
Deciduous shrub
Hydrangea family (Hydrangeaceae)

Maryland Distribution: does not occur naturally in the state, but native to the southeastern U.S.; woodland or woods-edge habitat
Height: variable; typically 4 to 8 feet tall, potentially up to 12 feet tall
Flowers: tapering clusters of ivory-white blooms containing both sterile flowers (with petals) on the outer layer of the cluster and fertile flowers (without petals) underneath; the petals often turn pinkish as they age; June into July; insect-pollinated
Fall color: variable; ranges from plum-purple to red, orange, and golden yellow
Sun: best in part sun to dappled shade, but will tolerate full sun
Soil: moist to moderately dry, well-drained

Garden Uses: Oakleaf hydrangea has great multi-season interest and is a showy addition to a wooded understory or shaded foundation bed. This multi-stemmed deciduous shrub tends to form a mounded clump, but may sucker and produce a colony when free of competition in an ideal location. Growth is not very dense and plants are easily restrained via pruning if space is limited. Autumn leaf color is usually reliable and showy before the leaves shed for winter, though leaf shed may occur quite late in the season.

The bark on young stems is often covered in a fine brown fuzz. Mature stem bark develops a cinnamon color with an exfoliating (peeling) outer layer. Emerging young leaves are also coated in a fine pale fuzz which wears off as the leaf matures.

Oakleaf hydrangea blooms on old wood, meaning the flower buds form the year before they open. To avoid removing flower buds, complete any needed pruning just after flowers have faded in summer. (Pruning in autumn, winter, or early spring will reduce or prevent blooming.)

Compact and dwarf cultivars exist, including some maturing as short as about 3 feet high. Some cultivars have fuller blooms with more sterile flowers and fewer fertile flowers, but these will be less beneficial for pollinators.

Wildlife: Supports pollinators like bumble bees and syrphid flies. Some songbirds may eat the seeds.

Fuzzy young leaves on oakleaf hydrangea.
New growth with the normal fuzzy coating on young leaves (pale creamy-green) and stems (cinnamon-orange). Photo: Miri Talabac
Pink-blushed fading flowers on oakleaf hydrangea.
The petals on fading blooms droop and may turn pink before aging to brown. Photo: Miri Talabac
Growth habit of oakleaf hydrangea.
Typical wider-than-tall growth habit. Faded flowers are brown. Photo: Miri Talabac
Growth habit of oakleaf hydrangea with autumn leaf color.
Growth habits can also be rounded, as with this variety pictured in late October. Photo: Miri Talabac
Autumn leaf color on a compact oakleaf hydrangea variety.
Autumn leaf colors in early November on a compact cultivar. Photo: Miri Talabac
Peeling bark on oakleaf hydrangea stems.
Flaking/peeling bark on older stems is normal, and the cinnamon-orange color is showy. Photo: Miri Talabac

Compiled by: Miri Talabac, Horticulturist & Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center. 2022

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