Nancy Brachey

Oak-leaf hydrangeas deserve space in your landscape

This beautiful oak-leaf hydrangea shows how the bloom develops, opening from bottom to top.
This beautiful oak-leaf hydrangea shows how the bloom develops, opening from bottom to top. File photo

Hydrangeas look so beautiful this time of year that it is tempting to clear space in the landscape and make room for more and more of these delightful shrubs.

Who wouldn’t want another Endless Summer or Blushing Bride hydrangea with their globe-shaped blooms?

But there is another kind of hydrangea, less well known and not so widely planted, that is nothing short of a star of the year-round landscape.

It is the oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, a large shrub that bears cone-shaped white flowers on an elegant mounding plant.

Besides its gorgeous flowers in early summer, the oak-leaf brings many assets to the partly shady to sunny landscape. The flowers, opening in early June, last for a few weeks, then typically develop a purplish-pink color that lasts as the blooms mature.

The foliage is another big asset. It has a distinctive shape that is large with many lobes resembling the leaves of some oak trees. Hence, the common name. This foliage is not only a pretty green with a distinctive shape, it offers color in the autumn. That is when the green leaves turn burgundy to red for the fall color season. And this works beautifully at ground level as the canopies of trees gain their autumn hues overhead.

Another visual asset is the reddish-brown bark that peels a bit in winter. By then the leaves are gone and this becomes quite noticeable and appreciated.

As you can see, this is not a plant that should be hidden away in a distant corner of the backyard, but one that can gain status in a prominent spot where it is seen through the year.

In garden centers, you will probably see these plants in bloom right now. I would not worry about setting it out in your landscape now provided you can pay attention to watering it through the dry weeks of July and August.

A typical oak-leaf will grow rather rapidly to 5 or 6 feet high, another asset for those wanting their landscape to gain a mature look without waiting years and years. So don’t sink it into a tight spot where it will require pruning that will reduce the plant’s beauty.

Some smaller forms exist, 3 feet or so, as do yellow-leafed ones that are distinctly different. Flowers form on the previous year’s growth, which means spring pruning will reduce flowering, another reason to plant them where they have space to be themselves.

My oak-leaf hydrangea has been growing for more than two decades with no fussing and has never given me a second’s problem. It seems able to withstand drought, deluge, cold winters, late freezes, hot summers and even dropping limbs caused by ice storms.

How good is that? Really good.

Ask Nancy

Q. I see a very pretty yellow flower in bloom now. Is it a lily? It looks like one.

A. That is a daylily named Stella de Oro, which is one of the most popular daylilies in home and commercial landscapes. It has been popular for many years and is a reliable bloomer in sunny, difficult spots.

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