Oakleaf hydrangeas easily grown in shady areas

Published on Wednesday, 4 June 2014 23:36 - Written by Dee Bishop, In Our Garden

Oakleaf hydrangeas have been important accents in my garden for more than 40 years.

I saw them first when we went through Vicksburg on our way to Alabama in 1970. I thought they were the most magnificent things I had ever seen. There they were, growing on the steep rocky hillsides around there and I was overjoyed when I saw them growing wild in Alabama, too.

I decided I must have one of my very own. I became friends with some women who took me to an area where a highway had been and I dug my first ones. They performed magnificently and they still do.

Oakleaf hydrangeas are natives to the rich acid soils of the Southeast. Supposedly they only grow east of the Mississippi River, but I found a stand of them in Louisiana once. Wherever they grow, they are absolutely gorgeous.

Large shrubs growing to 10 feet tall by 10 feet wide, they demand attention. I love them in my yard because they really brighten my shady wooded areas. They are blooming right now, and oh, how wonderful they smell!

People are always surprised to find out about their soft flowery scent. My neighbors always comment on their blooms and scent as they walk by.

In autumn, the huge oak-shaped leaves turn a deep wine red — outstanding against a winter sky! If we have enough rain, the blooms will change from white to pink and darken as summer goes on to a deep coppery color, and finally dry.

We usually get too hot and dry, and the blooms go from white to dry, but I love them dry, too. If we are lucky this year and they turn pink, I will gather some to dry. They will stay pink and pretty for several years. They keep their color much longer than the French mopheads do.

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are easily grown in shady (but not dark shade) moist areas, although they tolerate drought once established. As I said, the wild ones grow huge, but newer cultivars have been produced that grow much smaller. There are some that supposedly only get 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. There are ones with golden foliage and smaller blooms. My hydrangea blooms get enormous with lots of spring rain. One year I measured 16-inch to 18-inch blooms! They are usually 12 inches or larger.

Go to the IDEA Garden and the shade garden where you will see them blooming right now. You will see that you really must have one. Oakleaf hydrangeas are easily found in all nurseries nowadays; so there is no excuse for those of you with shady yards not having some to enjoy.

Dee Bishop is a Smith County Master Gardener. She writes about plants growing within the Tyler Rose Garden.