Pruning of oak trees is best done in the winter months between November and April. This will help to prevent the dreaded oak wilt disease, a systemic problem that is very difficult to stop once it has taken hold. Oak wilt occurs when the tree is most vulnerable in its growing season.
It’s a beautiful tree without a doubt and supports a huge range of wildlife, but the oak does require a fair amount of attention to keep it strong, healthy and attractive. Failure to take good care of your oak and allowing it to grow uncontrollably could result in it becoming diseased and very dangerous.
The importance of regular pruning, therefore, cannot be overestimated, particularly as the canopies can become extremely expansive and, in doing so, will often block light and views.
And then there is the matter of the strong, heavy branches which are prone to shedding if not regularly managed: something that could pose a risk of injury or property damage.
So, when is best to approach the job of pruning an oak tree?
Young oaks are pruned to promote growth and respond well to proper pruning, usually sprouting copious new growth. They should be pruned in mid to late winter: December and January are the months recommended by The National Forest Company. During the colder weather, bugs are far less prevalent, if not non-existent. The reason this is significant is that bugs can be responsible for the spread of disease.
When you prune a tree, you create a wound. This secretes sap, and bugs adore sap! Sap attracts bugs that come to feed on it, often bringing with them fungal spores and bacteria. This is a major risk, particularly with Oak Decline becoming a widespread problem in recent years across southern areas.
The best way to avoid fungal spores spreading is to ensure trees are pruned when the majority of bugs are either hiding away or have been killed by the frost, i.e. the winter months.
As an aside, if any evidence of Oak Decline is detected, it is crucial to avoid pruning altogether unless there is a particular risk of falling branches.
Mature oak trees are usually pruned to correct an issue, such as blocked light and airflow, or to prevent the risk of falling dead branches.
Whilst there is no hard and fast set of rules concerning the pruning of mature trees – which technically can be trimmed back to remove dead, diseased or weak limbs at any time of the year – as a rule, wound closure and growth become more enhanced if the pruning is undertaken before the growing season commences in spring.
In addition to this, because oak Decline is as much an issue for the mature tree as it is for the young, ensuring pruning is undertaken during the dormant season (late October to early March) and further still in freezing or near-freezing conditions is wise. This is because transmission of the disease is virtually impossible outside of warm periods.
How often should I trim?
Remedial pruning should be carried out on your Oaktree every 2 – 3 years. This includes removing dead branches or any other branch that looks structurally unsafe.
Every 3 – 5 years, you should have a qualified arborist out to inspect your oak tree and remove 15 – 20% of its foliage.
There are a couple of factors that would decide how often your Oaktree should be trimmed.
The age of your tree: This is a big factor as younger trees require frequent trimming to help them take the desired shape as they grow, while in the case of older trees, it is more about management.
Why are you pruning? – The aim behind your Oaktree trim will determine when you decide to prune it – if you have dead branches or those that pose a hazard to persons or property, you need to get them trimmed as and when required.
If you are looking to thin the trees canopy to let more light into your home, a canopy reduction would be in order. For heavy prunes, I would not recommend more than every 3 – 5 years.
As a thumb rule, winter is the best time for most trees, including Oaks. For the most part, this has to do with the way a tree reacts to pruning. Depending on how much you are taking off, pruning a tree is quite a shock to their system.
By opting to prune your Oak tree in winter while the tree is essentially in hibernation, ensure the tree will not immediately react and will only really notice the prune once it begins to switch on after winter slowly.
If your tree is less than ten years old, it is considered a juvenile tree and can bounce back better after heavier prunes. Although I do not directly recommend it, you might be able to get away with a prune in spring on younger specimens. I would not try this with a mature Oak tree, though.
How much does Oaktree trimming cost?
The amount you need to cut off will again depend on your motives for pruning, but for a remedial prune done every other year, no more than 5% of the tree’s foliage should be removed.
For larger prunes planned every 3 – 5 years, you can prune up to a maximum of 20%, but a good number of shoots is 15% of the tree’s foliage.
It is easy for me to give you a number or percentage of what needs to come off, but it will depend on the size, age and rate of growth of your tree.
Mature Oak trees respond well to a heavy prune, but every three years might be too often as their growth rate is slower than a juvenile tree. Also, the time it takes to heal old wounds on mature trees is slower. You will need to make sure their old wounds have had a chance to heal before you go ahead with another prune.
The cost to trim an oak tree will depend on:
- The size of the tree
- The type of prune you are carrying out
- How many branches you are taking off
- Ease of access to the tree
- Number of obstacles around the tree
Below I have laid out some cost estimates based on size. It is important to remember that other than the size of your tree, the ease of access is a very big factor. A tree in a front yard with great access for heavy equipment will cost half the price to trim than one in a backyard with poor access (via a narrow side gate).
Here are some average prices for trimming an oak tree by size:
- Small trees – Trees that are 1-1.5 storey tall would cost you $250 – $350
- Medium trees – Trees 2+ storey high will cost $350 – $550
- Large trees – Trees 3+ storey high will cost $600 – $1000
- Extra-large trees – Trees 6+ storey high shall cost $900 – $1800
We have touched on the size of the tree and how access can also affect prices, but the type of prune needed will also be a deciding factor.
For more information on tree trimming costs, visit our complete tree trimming cost guide here.
Remedial pruning: This is a very simple prune that involves removing deadwood or the odd crossing branch. You will pay the below-average price for this type of prune.
Canopy lift: This requires the removal of the lower branches of your oak tree. This is a pretty easy trim and will cost you close to the average price.
Canopy thinning: This type of prune involves removing selected second and third-order branches from the tree's canopy. This is a little bit more time consuming and will cost you above average price for this prune.Canopy reduction: This is the hardest and most time consuming of all. It is the pruning of 3rd, 4th and 5th order branches from the outermost limits of the tree canopy. An arborist will have to climb to all tree extremities, or an Elevated work platform will be needed. You will pay well above the average price for this type of prune.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tree Pruning
Being a tree surgeon is physically and mentally demanding. It can also be hazardous and stressful, so they need to have the right personal qualities to be successful in the role. Some of the personal qualities that a tree surgeon requires will include: Enjoy being outdoors in all types of weather.
Where a tree surgeon is tasked with maintenance, an arborist is the master of tree management. There are qualifications they should obtain before calling themselves an arborist and their training and experience within the industry is focused on advising on the overall wellbeing and health of your trees.
Arborists are often called tree surgeons because their business bears a resemblance to how a doctor works on people.
An arborist, tree surgeon, or (less commonly) arboriculturist, is a professional in the practice of arboriculture, which is the cultivation, management, and study of individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other perennial woody plants in dendrology and horticulture.
Generally, our tree surgeons will make a decision on whether it is safe to work on the day the work is due to take place. If the weather is damp but not raining – or raining lightly with a chance of clearing up – then work will go ahead as planned.
Oak Trimming Equipment
- Eye protection, such as safety glasses
- Garden shears
- Cutters for lopping
- Saw for chopping wood; sometimes known as a limb saw or a bucksaw
- Hedge trimmer
- A Rope Saw
- Homeowners who use a chainsaw should also invest in a safe working environment, including a
- recognise the correct usage of this equipment
- Sealant for pruning that isn't asphalt and latex paint for outdoor use
Wearing a hardhat and safety goggles will keep your head and eyes safe from projectiles. In order to properly prune a branch, the appropriate cutting instrument must be utilised. The limb saw, that has no gears, is great for trimming thinner branches.
Oak Pruning Fundamentals
When you thin a tree, you get rid of the dead branches and any clumps of dead leaves or twigs. Any branches that are crossing each other or rubbing against one another must be pruned. Besides allowing more air and light into the tree, this also prevents the unhealthy parts from being overfed by the weaker ones.
Crown raising is best done by creating a park-like space that may be walked through it or driven under, especially while there are multiple oak trees in a grove. We clean the ground beneath the tree by cutting off branches as low as 8 feet. At little more than a third of the tree's overall height, crown raising is acceptable for trees shorter than 24 feet. Fire safety requires this as well.
Reducing a tree involves cutting off limbs and twigs to make it smaller. Doing so may be obligatory when working near overhead electrical wires or chimneys. Very immature oaks can be cultivated under these conditions with the help of annual pruning to maintain the proper form.
Oak Cutting And Sealing
Remove branches no more than three inches from where they join another, larger branch. You should make your first cut a third of the entire through the branch, from underneath.
Then, carefully position yourself as close the other branch as you can without cutting into the one that remains, and make a smooth cut. Larger branches can cause smaller ones to fall off and create a dangerous edge if dropped.
Due to their susceptibility to disease and insect infestations, oak trees benefit from having their wounds sealed. If you want to seal your prune cuts without using asphalt, look for a product designed for that purpose. It's also possible to use latex paint.
The Importance Of Timing
Oak trees are best pruned between November and April, when the weather is colder and rain is less likely. This will aid in the prevention of the devastating oak wilt illness, a systemic issue with a high barrier to entry.
The growth season is when oak trees are most susceptible to wilt. Insects that are infected with the fungus and enter the bark through wounds are responsible for spreading it. Trees should be protected from further damage by applying a protective sealant right after they are trimmed or damaged during the growing season.
The Dangers Of Summer Oak Tree Trimming
Every time you remove a branch off a tree, you leave a scar. Now, picture the results of slashing your arm. Recent wounds are more vulnerable to infection, which can have fatal consequences. This similar logic applies to oak trees, as well as the results are usually quite negative.
The oak wilt fungus is a serious threat to oak trees. In spite of oaks' incredible strength, this fungus is capable of killing even the healthiest of trees. When a tree is pruned at the wrong season, typically the summer, this happens.
During the months of April through August, tiny sap beetles are most active and spread oak wilt through tree to tree. The uninvited guests seek for oaks that have just had pruning done, and they leave behind a fungus that grows rapidly. Oak wilt can be lethal in many cases.
Oak Tree Pruning Regulations
The pruning season does not signal an open invitation to begin slashing at will. In order to preserve certain tree species, many municipalities have enacted tree bylaws; oaks are frequently included in this category.
It's important to have the proper permits before you prune a large oak tree. If you are unsure whether or not you need a permit, it is best to check with a tree expert. Not only will the trees benefit from these regulations, but so will the citizens.
Can you tell me when the best time of year is to prune oak trees? It's a common misconception among inexperienced arborists that you can prune nearby trees at any time of the year. In theory, this is correct; after all, a tree can't stop you. To properly prune a live tree, one must have experience and training in arboriculture. Make sure it's the proper time of year to prune your oak trees before you grab your heavy-duty loppers.
Summer is the best season for enjoying the outdoors. Do you have visions of sipping lemonade while watching your children climb trees? Even though your oak trees could grow beautifully during this hot season, you shouldn't be trimming them.
A common misconception amongst homeowners is that oak branches should be pruned in the summer. Instead, pruning should be done between late fall until early spring, more specifically from November 1 through March 31. Oak trees are more resistant to pests and illnesses during these months.
Trimming Oak Trees
It takes effort to keep oak oak health and growing strong, but once it does, it may be one of the more beautiful trees there in neighbourhood with its massive canopies and limbs that branch out in all directions. An diseased, disease-ridden, potentially-falling oak that has been let to grow unchecked can be the result of years of neglect.
Remove any broken, diseased, or unruly branches from your oak trees to keep them robust and healthy. Pruning an oak tree is a simple and enjoyable activity once you know what you're doing, and the result is a gorgeous, healthy tree.
Young Oak Tree Pruning
Mid- to late-winter, or January through March, is the best time to prune young oaks. If you prune your tree in the winter, it will have time in the spring to heal whatever cuts you made.
- Only remove diseased or damaged branches from young trees.
- Developmental trimming, which is used to shape the tree, can begin two to three years following planting.
- Study the habits of the oak tree species you have.
Get your trimming equipment ready. Clean your clippers and then saw blade with a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach before you begin cutting. After that, you should wash the equipment and hang it up to dry.
Create a dynastic leader line. Growing an oak tree that can produce excellent shade requires training one branch to become the tree's main support structure. The largest branches in your tree are often the ones you're most interested in. There could be two or three major branches, all roughly the same size. These will eventually develop into competing leaders, weakening the tree as a whole.
- Look at the tree and see which branch is straightest and most in the middle of the trunk. That's the one you want to make the boss of the group.
- It's important to thin out any competing leaders' branches so that the chosen one may get the most exposure to light.
- The dominating leader should be kept in place for as long as possible.
Cut away from the branch's collar. Where the branch first starts to attach to the trunk is where a swelling, called the branch collar, develops. When branches are pruned back too far, they cause damage to the tree's trunk and prevent it from producing new growth tissues.
- Cut back long branches to a side branch or bud to make them shorter.
- Cut at an angle always to promote growth.
Don't let the tree's crown get too bare. When pruning trees, never take off more than a third of the canopy in such a single growing season. A tree's ability to use sunlight to make food and build strong roots is dependent on the condition of its crown. This is particularly vital in the early stages of the tree's life.
Maintain the shape of your tree by cutting back its branches annually. In order to promote healthy development, annual pruning of young trees is recommended. Keep the largest branch as the leader at all times and cut back any significant forks. Dead, diseased, or damaged branches should be removed, as should those that pass over or rub against adjacent branches, as should inward-growing ones.
- There is no guarantee that sickness was the cause of the damage; it may have been caused by something as simple as the weight of the branch.
- Inspect the tree's bark for white, flaky scaling, which may have been caused by pests, if you're trying to determine what ailment has struck your oak tree.
Mature Oak Tree Maintenance
Purposeful slimming down. Trimming large branches from an old tree removes a lot of the tree's support structure and can dramatically alter the tree's form, so it's crucial to plan which branches you'll remove before you start cutting. Trees should only have their branches pruned if it serves a specific purpose.
- Taking down branches that are either unhealthy or broken
- Cut back limbs to open up the tree's canopy to more light and air. Don't want to "thin out" the canopy by doing this.
You should prune the ends of the bigger branches as well. If you make one cut to a very huge limb, it may break off of the tree and peel the bark as it falls. When the bark is trimmed properly, it stays healthy.
- About 1 to 2 inches out from branch collar, or even the point where the branch joins the trunk, cut the branch down to the ground.
- Just a few inches beyond the undercut, make another cut along the branch's top.
- By doing so, the bark on the trunk is protected from the falling limb.
- After the main portion of the branch has fallen, you can shorten the remaining 1 to 2 feet by making an angle cut 1 to 2 inch (2.5 to 5.1 cm) from branch collar.
Let the tree mend itself naturally. Leave your oak tree alone after removing branches to allow the tree to recuperate in the fresh air.
- Make sure your tree has enough water and prune it carefully to avoid causing unnecessary damage.
- Cuts in trees will heal on their own, so there's no need to use a sealant, which could encourage the growth of disease-causing organisms by keeping them confined inside the tree.