Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Oakleaf Hydrangea in Summer

As with most roses, iris, and lilacs, the floral performance of most hydrangeas is so powerful that the foliage is secondary. This is usually just as well. The exceptions—blue-leaved rose, variegated-leaved iris, and cut-leaf lilac—are as striking as they are welcome. 


Oakleaf hydrangea is perhaps the most dramatic—the most foliage-fabulous—of them all. Indeed, despite the spectacular flowers, oakleaf hydrangea can be grown, proudly and gorgeously, so that it never flowers.


The enormous sculptural leaves are green in Spring and Summer, and change to pink, red, and burgundy in Fall.


Hydrangea quercifolia Sykes Dwarf wider view 072716 640


They are borne on fuzzy stems so slender they could be joss sticks.


Hydrangea quercifolia Sykes Dwarf stem better 072716 640


Together, the foliage and stems are a complete show. See the "Quirks or special cases" box here for ways to maximize them.


All the pictures here are of two shrubs of a compact Hydrangea quercifolia cultivar, 'Sikes Dwarf'. Although the straight species can grow to ten feet tall and twelve across, 'Sikes Dwarf' rarely exceeds four to five feet high and wide. Its foliage is somewhat smaller, too. The one below I pruned back last Winter, so that it is producing only stems and foliage this season.


Hydrangea quercifolia Sykes Dwarf overall 072716 640


This other 'Sikes Dwarf' receives little pruning and, so, is blooming gracefully. Long and large pointed clusters emerge creamy white in June and July, but August into October they take on a deeper and deeper blush of pink, then rose. 


Hydrangrea quercifolia Sykes Dwarf Populus alba Richardii Cephalotaxus harringtonia Fastigiata 072716 640


The tiny fertile flowers that fill the interior of the flower cluster emerge white and—as here—mature to a bright green that contrasts well with the enduring, large-sepaled sterile florets on the surface. They have yet to begin their transition to pink and rose.


Hydrangrea quercifolia Sykes Dwarf fingers flower cluster 072716 640


These clusters remain showy for months, even as the foliage transitions to its Fall show. Oakleaf hydrangea has few peers for season-long excitement.


Here's how to grow 'Alice', a full-size Hydrangea quercifolia cultivar. Its hardiness and handling are the same as those of 'Sikes Dwarf'.

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