The Oakleaf hydrangea is one of the few hydrangeas native to the United States (H. arborescens being the only other native we are aware of).
The Oakleaf hydrangea is a dramatic, white-blooming shrub with four seasons of interest. It blooms best in areas where summers are somewhat hot, but it is winter hardy farther north than the macrophylla (mophead). A tremendous advantage of the Oakleaf is that it can thrive in much dryer locations than its cousins. Mopheads struggle in my sandy soil, but the Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive with very little attention.
At this time the Oakleaf can be purchased in two forms: the single blossom types and the, so called, double-blossom type. 'Snowflake' & 'Harmony' are two most common varieties with double blooms.
The Oakleaf gets its name from the shape of its beautiful large leaves. These leaves often turn colors of brilliant red, orange, yellow and burgundy in the fall if planted in a sunny location with a little afternoon shade. The Oakleaf hydrangea can tolerate and even thrive in much sunnier areas than the mophead and lacecaps (macrophyllas).
NOTE: Unlike the mophead, the Oakleaf can grow very well in drier soil, but it cannot tolerate "wet feet." It is important to provide excellent drainage when planting this hydrangeas. It can get root rot in a heart-beat if it stands in soggy soil even for short periods.
Varieties of Oakleaf Hydrangeas
This is a very special Oakleaf hydrangea because the blooms appear to be double (technically they are referred to as "multiple florets", but I'm going to call them "double."). Since the florets continue to open on each flower panicle throughout the summer, the bloom season is MUCH longer than that of the single varieties.
When shopping for 'Snowflake,' do not confuse it with 'Snow Queen,' which is a beautiful single, but is NOT 'Snowflake.'
'Harmony' is relatively new to me although I think it's been around for years. It is still a little difficult to find for purchase. But it will probably not be long before it is more readily available.
'SNOW QUEEN', 'ALICE'
'Snow Queen,' and 'Alice,' Oakleaf hydrangeas are similar. They are close to the native Oakleaf in that they have single blooms. However, each has been bred to exhibit certain qualities considered superior to most native oakleafs. 'Sikes Dwarf' is more compact than the others and may be best for smaller gardens.
'SIKES DWARF' and 'PEEWEE'
Both 'Sikes Dwarf' and 'Pee Wee' work well in smaller gardens.
UPDATE: Dottie from Arlington, Virginia, sent me these photos of her beautiful 'SIKES DWARF', growing in her garden.' This is a pretty amazing little hydrangea. Dottie says that it has NO direct sun. The plant is staying compact, even hugging the ground, despite this. (Many shrubs will get leggy if they are grown in no sun, even if they are shade lovers). This looks like an ideal hydrangea to plant in the front of a shady border. (Doesn't it look healthy?) Click for larger views.
Another visitor to this site, Chris, from Long Island, NY, says that she was looking for a shrub that would do well in a small space, only 4 X 6 feet. She found that the oakleaf hydrangea 'Pee Wee' works beautifully in this small area. Chris says "This is the first year I've had it in my yard, and it was very happy. It bloomed most of the summer, and it has rewarded me with deep burgundy colored leaves this fall/winter. I strongly recommend it for those who have a smaller space to work with and desire an oakleaf hydrangea. It will get to be about 4 feet high and as wide."