Plant of the month

Oak-leaved hy­drangea

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Oak-leaved hy­drangeas (Hy­drangea quer­ci­fo­lia) pro­vide dou­ble the joy in your gar­den – in sum­mer they bear lovely showy blooms and in au­tumn the fo­liage boasts the most beau­ti­ful hues.

This shrub’s blooms are just like the well-known mop­head hy­drangea (Hy­drangea macro­phylla), with a clus­ter of small flow­ers form­ing one large bloom. This species, how­ever, car­ries its flow­ers in a con­i­cal creamy-white clus­ter. In au­tumn the leaves turn a gor­geous shade of bronze. Plant a few of these shrubs to­gether for added im­pact.

Oak-leaved hy­drangeas like moist but well-drained, fer­tile soil. Pre­pare the plant­ing hole well by adding plenty of com­post, a hand­ful of bone­meal and fer­tiliser such as At­lantic Fer­tilis­ers Bio Ganic All Pur­pose.

This shrub also makes a good hedge plant and does equally well in sun and semi-shade, although its leaves may scorch in full sun.

In the hot sum­mer months, it needs plenty of wa­ter; drench the soil at least three times a week and add mulch around the stem. In win­ter, when it is dor­mant, wa­ter less fre­quently. Oak-leaved hy­drangeas are fairly dis­ease-re­sis­tant.

This plant doesn’t need much prun­ing. Once it is es­tab­lished, cut back the old wood by about one-third down to soil level in au­tumn or early win­ter af­ter it has flow­ered; it will reshoot. If you want to tidy up the shrub, lightly trim the rest of the stems. The more you cut back, the big­ger the leaves will be the fol­low­ing grow­ing sea­son.

Oak-leaved hy­drangeas make ex­cel­lent cut flow­ers; choose ma­ture flower clus­ters on which most of the lit­tle blooms are al­ready open, as younger flow­ers wilt sooner. Don’t trim off the dead blooms af­ter the flow­er­ing sea­son; as the flow­ers age, they turn brown and pa­per-like, adding to the plant’s ap­peal for a few more months.

Take hard­wood cut­tings in win­ter, or soft­wood cut­tings from the new sea­son’s growth in late spring; plant in pots in com­post-rich soil and trans­plant when they have suf­fi­cient roots. Older stems touch­ing the ground will also form roots; chop off these stems with a spade in win­ter and plant them else­where in the gar­den.

By Marié Ester­huyse Pho­to­graphs Fran­cois Ober­hol­ster

The leaves of Hy­drangea quer­ci­fo­lia turn an at­trac­tive bronze in au­tumn.

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