"Hydrangea time"

Meet a rather different member of the genus Hydrangea.
Sunday, 28 November 2021     

Hydrangea quercifolia

The genus Hydrangea is one of the stars of the November garden - and with all the rain we have had in spring, they are particularly beautiful this year. I have written a blog about Hydrangea macrophylla, which includes most of the types we see in our gardens in Sydney, but there are other less common species that grow quite well in our climate, including Hydrangea quercifolia, the so-called oak-leaved hydrangea. I have the basic species of this shrub in my own garden and at the moment it is covered with its large creamy-white sterile flowers mixed with tiny fertile flowers, reminiscent of the look of the 'Lacecap' group of Hydrangea macrophylla. However, these are held in long, graceful conicals, quite different from the rounded flower heads of Hydrangea macrophylla. They look rather like the blooms of Hydrangea paniculata, a lovely species which does not seem to do well in Sydney, except in the more elevated suburbs, so this is a good substitute.

The flowers may become pink-tinged as they age. They eventually become papery and brown, still attractive in autumn. The deeply lobed leaves are quite reminiscent of those of an oak tree, again quite different to the more commonly encountered Hydrangea. It is semi-deciduous, the leaves sometimes colouring a little in autumn - more so in colder areas and if grown in a sunny position. It grows to about 1.5-2 m in height. The provenance of this shrub is quite different to most Hydrangea species, which come from Asian areas - it hails from the south-east of USA.

This species need minimal pruning. I trim off the deadhead eventually in late winter, along with any wayward or damaged stems. It seems to grow from underground stolons, which can be detached to grow new shrubs: mine was grown in this way from a dear friend's shrub many years ago. I haven't ever found it to be invasive. It copes with drier situations than Hydrangea macrophylla (and actually needs well-drained soil) and also tolerates more sun.

There are a number of named cultivars of this Hydrangea. Some of these are smaller-growing ones, suited to more compact spaces, including 'Sike's Dwarf' (ht 1 m) and 'Pee Wee' (ht 1 m) - they have the same lovely trusses of flowers, but on a smaller scale than the species. At the other end of the height spectrum is 'Alice', which grows to 2.5 m in height and needs plenty of space to be seen at its best. A double-flowered form, called 'Snowflake' (ht 1.5 m) has a truly exquisite flower, and these last for a very long time on the bush, ageing to soft green.

Yet another variation is one with gold leaves, called 'Little Honey' (ht 1-1.5 m), with the same sort of flowers as the others. The foliage colour is most golden if grown in sun, preferably morning sun, as afternoon sun may burn the leaves; it is a lovely chartreuse hue when grown in shade. The flower heads of oak-leaved Hydrangea are good for picking for vases. As mentioned, these Hydrangea specimens can tolerate sun but also look very attractive grown in shady parts of the garden to create an easy-care 'woodland' effect, along with shrub, cane and rhizomatous Begonia, Justicia carnea, Solomon's seal, Arthropodium cirrhatum and Acanthus mollis, which are all blooming now. They also look effective grown with ferns. The smaller versions of Hydrangea quercifolia can be tried in pots.

Blog first published 21 November 2010; updated 28 November 2021. Apologies for the late sending of the email alert this week.

 Reader Comments

1/10  Gillian - 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 22 November 2010

I love Mondays because my in box has your wonderful gardening blog. thank you, thank you, thank you. Gillian

Thank you, Gillian. It is very nice to get feedback. Deirdre

2/10  Jan - 2072 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 22 November 2010

Hi Deirdre, I agree with Gillian that your blog makes my day and I too thank you. At the moment I have a white, pink and blue hydrangea growing right next to each other and none have been treated for special colour!! Its all very interesting. Jan

Interesting about those colours. I think white stays white (except may age a little to pink) but it is unusual to have pink and blue together. I know of another gardener who is intrigued that all her hydrangeas which are usually blue are pink this year! Deirdre

3/10  Georgina - 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 22 November 2010

Dear Deirdre, I love the wonderful cool look of the blue hydrangeas at this time of the year but the white ones that change from green to white and then to mottled pink as they mature are really beautiful. Georgina

Yes, I do think I like the white ones the best. I love the greenish buds and have been trying to create a garden scheme using them with greenish flowers nearby. Deirdre

4/10  Helen - 2154 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 22 November 2010

Hi Deirdre. Once again you have started my week in the nicest possible way. Gorgeous hydrangeas, but I haven't grown them since leaving Victoria. Thank you for bringing Red Cow Farm to my attention. A perfect venue for a Day bus trip for my club. Than you so much. Helen.

Thanks, Helen. It is well worth going to visit Red Cow Farm. Amazing plants and an outstandingly designed garden. There is also a nursery! Deirdre

5/10  Bev - 2070 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 22 November 2010

Hi Deirdre - thanks for your great gardening info! I also like the H. quercifolia group. I had a very large Snowflake which collapsed & died after quite a few years - seemed to be some sort of rot but was in a dry, sunny spot & flowered very well. I have a small replacement plant in a new position.

Sorry to hear that your old plant died; hope the new one will do well. Deirdre

6/10  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 22 November 2010

Hi Deirdre. Great blog, thanks. After severe unexpected frosts we had in Carlingford I lamented to you I feared the loss of a hydrangea I had nursed for yonks. Dont give up you said, they are resilient. Well I have best blooms ever! Thanks for your support. Maureen

I'm glad your hydrangea is OK! I have found my shrubs to be pretty tough, once established. This year seems especially good for hydrangeas. Deirdre

7/10  Frances - 3941 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Tuesday, 23 November 2010

hi, i was lucky enough to be able to get some cuttings of this great plant, they are coming along nicely. H. quercifolia seems to do well down here on the Mornington Peninsula.

Thanks, Frances. Hope it continues to grow well. Deirdre

8/10  Ann - 2120 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 29 November 2010

Hi Deidre, I have a hydrangea that has variegated leaves... has anyone seen one of these before? I have only just discovered the beauties of hydrangea plants ... Im a newbie but am very enthusiastic!!! Thank you for the great blog! Ann.

Thanks, Ann. There is a Hydrangea macrophylla which I think is called 'Maculata' that has variegated leaves. There is a photo of it in my plant reference section. It is of lacecap form. Deirdre

9/10  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 30 November 2021

I agree Deidre - with all the rain the hydrangeas are looking great and living up to their watery name. My H.quercifolio looked great too, however the weight of the rain on the flowers took them to the ground and they spoilt a bit. I was sent H.paniculata Brussels Lace from a grower by mistake (and was told to keep it) and note that it won't do so well, but it's in the ground now so will see what happens. A nice blog.

10/10  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 02 December 2021

So pleased to read the hydrangea blog, as these plants are one of my favourite summer flowers. I have macrophylla, in white, sort of purple, blue and pinks, and a quercifolia (variety unknown) as well as a variety called, in my youth, Japanese hydrangea, as the flowers are tiny, and some lace caps. Last year obtained a pink double flowered one - delightful

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