Hydrangea quercifolia is an attractive, versatile shrub that can be used as a stand-alone feature or as part of groupings and hedges. It's easy to find in nurseries and is more or less disease- and bug-free, though a deer or two might still find it tasty. With interesting foliage, bark and flowers, this shrub adds variety throughout the year.
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Hydrangea quercifolia, the oakleaf hydrangea, is a member of the hydrangea family of shrubs. This deciduous flowering shrub is native to the southeastern United States and is hardy to zone 5. It's best suited to zones 5 through 9. The shrubs usually grow 4 to 8 feet tall but can grow as high as 12 feet. This species is usually wider than it is tall. The dark green, lobed leaves look like oak leaves, giving the plant its common name. They are dark green in summer and turn red or reddish-purple in fall. Flowers are pyramidal collections of white flowers that turn pink in late summer, then tan.
A number of cultivated variants, or cultivars, of hydrangea quercifolia are available. According to the University of Connecticut Extension Service, Alice is the largest; it grows to 15 feet tall and wide. Flowers are at least 1 foot long. Alison is more of a spreading plant and grows 10 feet tall and wide; this variety goes burgundy in fall. Snowflake is another large-flowered, prolific selection; branches may actually bend under their weight. The bush is a little smaller, reaching just 8 feet tall.
Two common dwarf variants of hydrangea quercifolia are Pee Wee and Sikes Dwarf. Pee Wee reaches 2 to 4 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide with a deep rose to purple fall colour. The flowers are conical and around 4 to 5 inches long. Sikes Dwarf typically reaches the same height, but is a little less broad, spreading only 4 feet. However, both can grow beyond dwarf status to reach 4 to 6 feet. In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service released two new, true dwarf cultivars, Munchkin and Ruby Slippers. Both stay 3 to 4 feet tall after nine years of growing and produce white flowers that turn different shades of pink.
Hydrangea quercifolia can grow in full sun to partial shade and prefers moist, fertile soil with plenty of organic material, i.e. compost. The plant tolerates wet or dry sites and poorer soils and, while it prefers acidity, it can grow in neutral to slightly alkaline soils. Mulch the root area to keep it cool and moist. Younger plants may need protection in winter as they are less hardy.
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