Oak Tree Trimming Guide
How to Trim Oak Trees
Oak trees can be some of the most beautiful trees in the neighborhood with their huge canopies and branching limbs, but it takes work to keep an oak healthy and growing strong. An unkempt oak left to grow wildly can be unhealthy and full of disease making it in danger of falling. To ensure your oaks stays strong and healthy, pruning the dead, diseased, and unruly branches is necessary. Understanding the pruning process makes tree trimming an easy and fun task, and leaves you with a beautiful, healthy oak.
Pruning Young Oak Trees
Prune young oaks in mid to late winter, or January through March.Trimming your tree during the winter months allows it to care for its wounds in spring when it will recover more quickly.
- Limit trimming only to dead or broken branches on newly planted trees.
- Two to three years after planting you can begin developmental trimming to shape the tree.
- Learn the growth habits of your particular type of oak tree
Prepare your tools for trimming.Before trimming, you’ll need to soak your clippers and saw blade with 9 parts water and 1 part bleach. Then rinse the tools off and let them air dry.
Establish a dominant leader branch.To create a healthy oak tree that create beautiful shade, you need to develop one dominant branch on the tree. Look at your tree and notice the largest branches. There maybe 2 or even 3 branches that are all large and a similar size to each other. As the tree grows, these will turn into multiple leaders and create a weaker tree.
- Decide which branch looks like it is the most vertical and centered on the trunk and choose that one to be the dominant leader.
- Trim the other branches that may turn into other leaders by reducing their size to allow more sunlight to reach the dominant leader you chose.
- Keep the dominant leader long.
Make cuts outside the branch collar.The branch collar is the swelling at the base of the branch where it begins to connect to the trunk. Trimming branches down to the branch collar will hurt the main trunk of the tree causing it damage to important tissues necessary for growth.
- Shorten large branches by cutting them back to a lateral branch or bud.
- Always make angled cuts to encourage growth
Keep the crown of the tree full.Never remove more that one third of the tree’s canopy in a single season. The tree depends on a healthy crown to create food from the sunlight and grow healthy roots in the ground. This is especially important when the tree is young.
Keep trimming each year to shape your tree.You need to prune young trees yearly to keep them growing healthily. Make sure the dominant leader is always the largest branch and trim back any large splits. Trim the branches that will prevent your tree from growing how you want it to:
- Dead, diseased, or broken branches
- Branches that cross over or rub other branches
- Inward growing branches
- Branches that are growing directly on top of other branches
Caring for Mature Oak Trees
Trim with a purpose.Pruning branches from mature trees takes a lot of weight off the tree and can change the shape drastically, so it is important to really think about which branches you are going to trim before you make the cut. Pruning branches from mature trees should only be done for specific purposes:
- Removing dead, diseased or broken branches
- Remove branches to create more sunlight or air flow to the canopy of the tree. Be careful doing this as you don’t want to “thin out” the canopy.
Cut the top and bottom of large branches.Making a single cut to large branches may cause them to tear off the tree and rip off the bark as they fall. Proper trimming ensures healthy bark:
- Make an undercut on the branch about 1 to 2 feet out from the branch collar, or the point where it connects to the trunk.
- Make a second cut on the top of the branch a few inches farther out that the undercut.
- This prevents the falling branch from tearing the bark off of the trunk.
- After the bulk of the branch falls, you can trim back the 1 to 2 feet the you left on the tree by cutting it at an angle 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) from the branch collar.
Allow the tree to heal the cut.After pruning the branches from your oak tree, leave the wound alone to let the tree heal itself in the open air.
- Prune carefully to not injure the tree excessively, and make sure the tree has plenty of water.
- Trees will naturally seal cuts; it is not necessary to apply an artificial sealant as this may trap microorganisms inside the tree and lead to disease.
QuestionWhen should you trim an oak tree?
HorticulturistHorticulturistExpert AnswerThe winter is the best time to prune trees. The visibility is better when the leaves are gone and the tree will also recover and heal faster if pruned during the winter.Thanks!
QuestionCan I cut back an oak tree?
HorticulturistHorticulturistExpert AnswerYes, oak trees should be pruned regularly to remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches and to thin out the canopy. Hire or consult a professional arborist before felling large branches. Remove 1/3 of the branches once a year or every several years.Thanks!
QuestionCan I cut branches from an oak tree in July?
HorticulturistHorticulturistExpert AnswerIt's not recommended to prune or cut during the summer, with the exception of extreme situations. Try holding out until the winter in order to allow them to heal in the spring.Thanks!
QuestionMy 10-year-old oak tree has a straggly branch that's very high up. Can I cut this off to try to make the lower branches look better?
HorticulturistHorticulturistExpert AnswerYes, but it's recommended that any very high branches should be cut by professionals, due to safety concerns.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I trim back a neighbor's tree?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe best way is to work with your neighbor and decide how to trim the tree. Legally, you can usually trim anything straight above your property line.Thanks!
QuestionIs October a good time to cut a large limb?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can prune a tree or bush at any time of the year. Just pay attention where you cut, and follow standard guidelines for where to cut.Thanks!
QuestionHow long after cutting will they start coming back?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends what time of the year it is being cutting. If you did it during the winter, then the spring is when you see new growth.Thanks!
QuestionIs it okay to trim dead branches from oak trees during the late spring and summer months?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. There is no special time to trim dead branches from any tree because they are no longer part of the tree; they only weigh it down unnecessarily.Thanks!
QuestionIf I pruned in May, do I need to apply a sealant?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf oak wilt is possible or common in your area, then you should seal, especially in May. Oak wilt can be active then. Otherwise, sealing is not generally necessary or helpful.Thanks!
QuestionMy neighbor's oak is growing over my roof, when can it be trimmed?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJanuary through March.Thanks!
Do I need to trim the canopy or take the tree down if my oak tree is leaning to one side?
Will cutting the small growth coming from a limb hurt the mature tree?
I have an oak tree, three trunks. Each trunk is about 14 inches. If I cut one trunk will the other two survive?
Will trimming my oak tree ruin the balance of the branches?
I gave a small oak tree I grew from an acorn. It is about 3 years old, There are several branches that are growing close to the ground. Should I cut these off?
Trim oak trees between January and March so they can heal quickly in the spring. When you’re preparing to trim the tree, soak your clippers and saw in 9 parts water and 1 part bleach and let them air dry. Then, choose one strong, vertical branch to be the leader. Remove the other large branches by making cuts outside the collar where the branch meets the trunk. If you cut the collar, you will damage the tree.
- Using high quality, sharp tools for your pruning is the best way to make sure your tree heals quickly from the cuts. Old, dull tools can cause unnecessary pulling on the fibers of the branch.
- Prune your tree in mid to late winter (January-March) for the best results.
- Learn about your species of oak and local climate before beginning to prune. Check your local library, nature center, or nurseries to find out more information.
- Successfully trimming a young tree is the best way to make sure you end up with a healthy mature oak that doesn’t need much pruning.
- Pruning mature oak trees at home is best kept to the smaller, lower branches that need pruning. Any branches up high in the tree should be left to a professional to cut.
- Read all instruction manuals for pruning tools before you use them to make sure you are using them safely.
- Wear safety items like gardening gloves, safety glasses, and long sleeves when trimming your oak tree.
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Video: How to Trim an Oak Tree So That it Can Heal Correctly to Avoid Rotting
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