Hydrangeas for Oklahoma’s finicky climate

Do you like hydrangeas, but despair of growing them in hot and sunny Oklahoma? Here are several hydrangeas for Oklahoma’s finicky climate. Choose wisely because hydrangeas live for a very long time, and many of them take up a lot of gardening room. If your garden is small, but mighty, choose one of the dwarf types I feature in this post.

There are old favorites and new ones to love. As you know, I lost many roses to Rose Rosette Disease, and I used hydrangeas and native shrubs to replace roses in my garden. These young plants are now growing into good anchor plants for herbaceous beds and borders. Plus, they’re easy care. Note: click on the photos in the galleries to make them larger.

H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’

First up, of course, is H. arborescens ‘Annabelle.’ The beautiful ‘Annabelle’ has lived in my garden for many years and grew from two small cuttings rooted by my friend, Wanda Faller. Hi Wanda!

For those of us worried about pollinators, it’s also the hydrangea that pollinators love. In fact, it is covered with many different creatures all summer long. ‘Annabelle’ was found in Anna, Illinois, and it’s native to southern Missouri, Oklahoma and even Louisiana. We need to plant more native plants in our gardens. Hybridizers have tried to improve upon ‘Annabelle,’ but for my money, they haven’t yet.

Hydrangeas for Oklahoma's finicky climate. Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' with pollinators drunk with joy
H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and pollinators drunk with nectar joy

‘Annabelle’ just gets better and better each year. I’ve rooted many cuttings for friends, and I think I’ll root more for overwintering in the greenhouse. Note: if you ever get a greenhouse, build it twice the size you think you need. You’ll find uses for it, I promise. Mine is much too small to do everything I want.

‘Annabelle’ is hardy to USDA Zone 3, and it gets 4 to 5 ft tall by 6 ft wide.

‘Annabelle’ holds onto her blooms throughout most of winter, and since she blooms on new wood, there’s no worry–cutting them off in spring won’t lessen her impact come summer. Not so with some of older H. macrophylla cultivars. To be honest, I’ve never had much luck with any of the traditional big-leaf hydrangeas in this garden. New and old cultivars live here just fine, but even the newer ones don’t bloom with any consistency. A non-performing hydrangea is a boring plant.

‘Annabelle’ can take some sun in Oklahoma, but not as much as some of the other hydrangeas I’ll feature in this post. She needs plenty of water as do most hydrangeas to look their best. Remember the word hydrangea starts with the Greek prefix “hydro” meaning water. All of mine are on drip irrigation to conserve as much water as possible.

H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’

My second-favorite hydrangeas are in a tie. I really love H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ and H. paniculata ‘Limelight.’ The paniculata (panicle) group can take a lot of sun as can some quercifolia (oakleaf) hydrangeas. However, ‘Ruby Slippers’ wins for dealing best with intense sunllight. ‘Ruby Slippers’ resides at the end of the garden where she took over for my ‘New Dawn’ roses, the first to succumb to Rose Rosette back when I barely knew what was happening.

No, hydrangeas aren’t roses, but they provide three beautiful seasons of interest, and compared to roses, hydrangeas are so easy care it’s hard to believe. ‘Ruby Slippers‘ came out of breeding at the U.S. National Arboretum. It blooms on old wood so remove the blooms after they fade. ‘Ruby Slippers’ is hardy to USDA Zone 5. It’s also a small, compact shrub–3 1/2 ft. tall and 4 to 5 ft. wide–so not much pruning is necessary.

See? Easy.

H. paniculata ‘Limelight’ and H. paniculata Little Lime®

Limelight,’ took the garden world by storm when it was introduced, and it’s a very forgiving plant. With water, it can take a lot of sun. I’ve seen it growing as a standard–small tree–making an exclamation point in garden beds. Or, you can let it spread out and become a great backdrop for other plants.

Like ‘Annabelle,’ ‘Limelight’s’ pointed blooms start out green, turn to white and then back to green by end of summer. Eventually, they turn a rosy, light brown. It blooms on new wood so there’s no worry of cutting off the next season’s blooms. In fact, it’s such an easy plant to grow throughout much of the country that I see it everywhere I travel. It’s also hardy to USDA Zone 3a, but doesn’t mind heat either. Mine is planted at the end of a rose border where I lost a Knock Out® rose to Rose Rosette. ‘Limelight’ does get big: 5 ft. to 6 ft tall and wide so give it some room.

If you have a smaller garden, there’s now a newer and smaller version of ‘Limelight’ called H. paniculata Little Lime®. This is a dwarf variety of panicle hydrangea and grows 3 ft. to 5 ft. wide and tall. I planted three next to my deck behind some daylilies and Tightwad Red crapemyrtles. Last summer, I grew Senorita Rosalita cleome in front too, and the purple and green made quite an impact for the fall garden tour. These small beauties also work well in containers with drip irrigation.

H. paniculata Quick Fire® and Little Quick Fire®

At each end of the same border, I planted H. paniculata Quick Fire®. These shrubs grow larger, and their blooms have more visual interest as they fade than Little Lime. Just one of the prettiest hydrangeas in production, and they can handle at least half a day of morning sun. As you can see from the photo below, they also have red stems. Quick Fire grows six to seven feet tall and wide, and it’s hardy to USDA Zone 3.

If you don’t have that kind of space, there’s a Little Quick Fire® too. Up until now, I bought all of the shrubs I’ve discussed. Proven Winners sent me Little Quick Fire and H. serrata Tuff Stuff™ to try out last summer. Little Quick Fire settled right in and is growing great guns. It is hardy to Zone 3 and grows from 3 ft to 6 ft. Tuff Stuff is taking longer to settle in, but even though it’s a mountain hydrangea, I have high hopes for it. Tuff Stuff grows 2 ft to 3 ft wide and 3 ft to 4 ft tall. It is hardy to Zone 5a.

H. paniculata Pinky Winky®

Years and years ago, I received Pinky Winky at a Garden Writers Association annual meeting. It grew from a one gallon pot to a nice-sized shrub about 3 ft tall by 3 ft wide. It’s supposed to grow larger, but some plants in Oklahoma are more stunted. Mine grows in full sun all day. It is hardy to Zone 3. I love the long pointed blooms and its small size, but I hate the name. I’d really like to try H. paniculata ‘Renhy’ Vanilla Strawberry, but Pinky Winky has grown so well in this spot I don’t have the heart to remove it. Maybe I can find another spot for Vanilla Strawberry. It grows much larger–6 ft to 8 ft tall and 4 ft to 5 ft wide. It is hardy to Zone 3.

Now, most of these hydrangeas bloom white and then fade to either pink, red or brown. I know how much people love blue hydrangeas, but in my part of Oklahoma, they require very specific conditions. Conditions I’m not willing to provide. Why should I when all of these others are so happy here?


  1. Rose says:

    I love hydrangeas! You may be focusing on the best choices for Oklahoma, but I can vouch for them in Illinois as well. ‘Quick Fire’ and ‘Pinky Winky’ are two I don’t have, but I’ve seen them in several gardens in our area, so I know they’re also good ones. ‘Limelight’ is still my favorite, but ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ is definitely gaining momentum–I’d try it, for sure, if you decide to add another, Dee.

  2. Because my rose garden is east facing, and so noticeable from the road, I think perhaps I should use all the same kind of hydrangea long that long, narrow length. So even though I’m still growing roses, I keep studying up the possible hydrangeas I would replace them with. I think it has to be one of the dwarf varieties, because of the narrowness. Although we could expand out into the generous expanse of lawn in that area. I have Little Quickfire and Little Lime, and both are lovely. Still thinking…

  3. I don’t have Annabelle, but I do have Incrediball and it does great for me. But I think it is better suited to my climate. I see Annabelle all over our village in the yards of older homes. It is tried and true, a pretty amazing shrub if it can do well here and where you are. Of course, we don’t need to irrigate it, typically.

  4. I have five hydrangeas in my garden, new choices are always welcome.

  5. You have a nice selection of hydrangeas. I would like to try ‘Little Quick Fire’. Next spring if the Nikko blue hydrangeas that I have don’t bloom I am ripping them out. I will miss their summer green hedge but I am so disappointed that they don’t bloom. Heck I would even take some pink blooms but they just don’t bloom any more. On the other hand Anna Belle, Lime Light and Vanilla Strawberry do a great job blooming. I mustn’t forget the Oakleaf Hydrangea I have, it blooms good too despite being under a maple tree. I don’t remember the variety but it is a bloomer.

  6. Joanne Shaw says:

    Great info Dee, surprisingly accurate details for our Zone 5 gardens here in Ontario. I have been really impressed by my Little Quickfire, even with our tough summer, it bloomed a good 5 weeks before my Limelight. So an earlier bloomer is a bonus especially since the Macrophylla varieties are not performing.

  7. Wanda says:

    I’m so glad you still love Annabelle. I can still remember how beautiful mine were in Oklahoma and I also grow them here. I grow Pinky Winky. Quick Fire, Little Lime and lots of paniculatas. Right now I’m dying for Little Quick Fire and Wedding Gown. Your garden looks wonderful – wish I could visit!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I will always love Annabelle as I will always love you Wanda! She is my best hydrangea although I love the others too. I’d love Wedding Gown. I’m trying two news ones: H. angustipetala ‘MonLongShou’ Golden Crane and H. quercifolia ‘Snowflake.’ I killed the first one, which is a Dan Hinkley introduction, last year. I tried it in a new spot this year. So far, so good. It’s very pretty. You would like it. The second one is a favorite of a friend from Tulsa, Beth Teel. I killed it once too. Haha. Started over in a new spot this year. Just the most beautiful and huge blooms. XOXO~~Dee

  8. Jackie Hendricks says:

    I saw a picture of your Annabelle last year, and have searched far and wide for one with no luck yet (I’m in Norman). No Luck at TLC or Marcums. Did find a Ruby Slippers this spring, and I really love it. Thank you for this post, I just found out I need go outside to dead head Ruby! I have learned lots from you!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jackie, Annabelle isn’t sold much in the trade, but you can order it online. White Flower Farm has it http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/63135-product.html. It will be small from a mail order source, but mine grew very fast. The only other way to get it that I know of is from a garden friend, or one of the local sales. The one every spring at Will Rogers Park might be a good place. Good luck looking for it. I order a lot of my plants from online sources. In fact, I want ‘Baby Joe’ Joe Pye weed, and I think I’ll need to order it.

  9. My wife and I do not have green thumbs what so ever. BUT we would love to learn. Flowers and gardens have always been so relaxing and enjoyable for us both. Is this plant a good starter with little to no experience in growing any plants?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hello OkieElectrican, yes, if you have a good water source, these are extremely easy. H. macrophylla are not as easy in our climate. I don’t know what type of soil you have, but hydrangeas like well drained soil. So, if you have our obnoxious clay, you’ll need to build up the soil where the hydrangeas are located. They like water, but they don’t want to drown.

  10. I’ve always like the white hydrangeas best. Yes, Pinky Winky is bad, but Incrediball is worse, don’t you think?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hahahaha, Marian, yes, Incrediball is much, much worse. And, it’s supposed to be an improvement over Annabelle, but it doesn’t seem to like my climate at all.

  11. Great information and it applies to Nashville where I garden. I do love the native H arborescens. ‘Ruby Slippers’ is lovely.

  12. indygardener says:

    Good info, even for those of us who have gardens elsewhere!

  13. LaDonna says:

    Thank you so much for your post! Many options for me to consider! I lost a group of 3 knockouts this year so I may replace them with one of your suggestions too ?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey LaDonna, this one was for you! We talked about it at the meeting, and I’d been thinking about it even before. Glad to help. These are all wonderful garden-worthy plants.

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