If you are gardening with natives, you have two hydrangeas to choose from: the oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and the smooth or wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). The smooth hydrangea is much more similar in shape and flower to the iconic blue and pink asian hydrangeas we all know.
The blooms on the native smooth hydrangea emerge lime green and ultimately form a clear white flower. They really light up a shady spot when blooming and make for nice cut flowers. Unlike the oak leaf hydrangea, these hydrangeas need at least part shade and can’t tolerate as much sun as the oak leafs can.
These hydrangeas bloom on new wood so can be cut back heavily. You may even see what appear to be fairly scraggly plants for sale in spring; they were just cut back and will regain their shape quickly. Please note, this is the opposite of oak leaf hydrangeas. Oak leafs bloom on old wood so if you cut back for winter, you will likely remove the following year’s blooms. Oak leaf – old wood. Smooth hydrangeas are the opposite.
There is no doubt the jazzy pinks and clear blue asian hydrangeas have become synonymous with summer, but to me, the white native hydrangea looks so much more natural in a Chesapeake garden. Oak leafs and Smooth – two great choices!
For more information:
About using the smooth hydrangea for winter interest from the Maryland Extension Service.
About the smooth hydrangea from the Lady Bird Wildflower Center.
For a great summary of the different cultivars of the smooth hydrangea, including ‘Annabelle,’ from Morton Arboretum in Illinois.