When To Trim Oak Trees To Avoid Damage (Do This!)

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf

Oak trees can be beautiful, majestic fixtures in any yard. Huge and lumbering, they can provide ample shade and a great place for the kids to climb in the summer. Having an oak tree can be a welcome addition to any yard.

The best time to trim oak trees is from November 1st to March 31st. You can damage your oak trees if you trim them outside of that season. Never trim your oak trees during the summer because it can prevent growth and affect its appearance.

When Should I Trim My Oak Trees?

Believe it or not, there are preferable times for trimming oak trees. Though they can grow to be huge in size, they are just as susceptible to the dangers that smaller trees may face. That said, wintertime is the best time to trim.

Anytime between November 1 and March 31 is the best time to trim your oak trees. They are less vulnerable during this time to infestations or diseases that could rot them. Rot in particular can ravage even the largest of trees, leaving them feeble, damaged, and at risk of potentially falling. Even if you think you are doing your oak tree some good by trimming it, doing so at the wrong time can be even more detrimental than doing nothing at all.

How Often Should You Trim Oak Trees?

Most trees are pruned every couple of years for younger trees while older trees get pruned every 3-5 years. Oak trees follow the same general rule of thumb with one exception. Oak trees have specific needs due to the potential risk of oak wilt.

So, you can generally have oak trees pruned and trimmed under the aforementioned guidelines, just make sure that you only have them pruned between November and March. Remember that fresh cuts in the summer can and will bring oak wilt with them, cutting the life of your oak tree far shorter than it may have been otherwise.

Do Not Trim in Summertime

Summer may seem like the most optimal time to do your trimming. The weather is nice, the air is warm, and you don’t have to contend with the cold or snow. But trimming your oak trees in summer can be potentially detrimental to the health of the tree.

  • Cutting into the tree. Whenever you cut into the branch of an oak tree, you are wounding that tree. It is quite similar to what happens when you cut your own arm. Fresh injuries in particular are much more likely to get infected and infection can lead to major complications. When it comes to the health of your oak tree, it can mean major complications and even dire consequences.
  • Oak wilt. Oak trees in specific are potentially susceptible to a dangerous fungal disease known as oak wilt. Oaks might be big and strong, but a potent fungus can take down even the largest of trees. When trimming during the wrong time of the year (summertime), that fungus can permeate the tree, playing havoc along the way.
  • Sap beetles. Another reason that you would not want to trim during the summer is due to sap beetles. They spread that oak wilt, moving from tree to tree. They also tend to be most active between April and August. They look for oaks that have fresh prune cuts in particular. When they arrive, they leave that fast-spreading fungus in their wake. In many cases, oak wilt will be fatal to your oak tree.

Be Aware of Oak Tree Pruning Ordnances

Knowing when to trim and when not to trim is a good place to start. That said, it is not the only thing that you need to be concerned with when it comes to pruning your oak trees. Don’t just start chopping at your oak trees without checking out the city ordinances in place.

Most cities will have ordinances in place to protect specific types of tree species within the area. It is safe to assume that oaks will be included. Don’t just skip ahead and assume that you don’t have to file the proper paperwork. Doing so can end up costing you significantly. Talk to a tree specialist in the area. Make sure that you don’t need to obtain any specific types of permits along the way.

Tree Specialists are a Great Idea

When it comes to just about anything, budget tends to come into play. But budget should not be the only dictating factor when it comes to getting things done. When it comes to something like trimming branches, there is often a serious risk of falling.

Self-trimming. Trimming the tree yourself can save you quite a bit of money. So, it is understandable to want to take on the task of oak tree trimming yourself. That said, safety should trump budget every time. Being as safe as possible when trimming oak trees (which are huge) requires specific equipment. Harnesses in particular can keep you from a potentially fatal fall.

Trimming specialists. Oak trees are generally pretty massive. Pruning a tree is a dangerous job and only gets worse with larger trees. Attempting to do it yourself to save a bit of money is not worth the risk to your safety.

Trimming and pruning specialists do this for a living. Not only do they have the experience and expertise to do the job, but they also have all of the proper equipment. They’ve been there and done that more often than you can count. It may cost more than you are comfortable with, but it is worth the costs to protect you.

What are Some Common Pruning Mistakes?

Trimming and pruning is not as simple as chopping where you think there is overgrowth. Poor pruning can not only ruin the look and appeal of your oak tree but leave them more susceptible to disease and even storm damage.

1. Topping

One of the most obvious mistakes when it comes to pruning a tree revolves around topping. This happens with trees that are too large for the spot where they are planted. For other trees, this happens when people think that it will result in more blooms than normal (spoiler: it doesn’t).

Topping means cutting away larger portions of the top of the tree’s crown. It can also mean leafing all of the branches on the top half of the tree. All that you wind up left with is a tree that has been deformed and that has a weaker branch structure.

2. Improper Cutting

It is important that you trim branches to a specific length, otherwise it could wind up damaging them. By cutting too short or close to the trunk, you are removing the collar of the branch. That collar has tissue in it with cells that help to heal wounds made to the tree.

By cutting too close to the trunk, you open a wound that the tree can’t heal. Moreover, that wound is open to pests and disease, putting your tree on a path to an early ending. When you remove large branches in particular, you run the risk of bark tears, too. Be wary of the size of your cuts and don’t just start randomly chopping.

3. Over Pruning

Pruning is great for trimming back overgrowth. Overgrowth can keep a tree from continuing to grow properly. But at the same time, over-pruning can be dangerous to a tree as well. You should never remove more than 15-20% of the foliage on a mature tree.

In most cases, removing 5-10% of the growth will do just fine. When you take too much off of the canopy of a tree, you leave the tree unable to produce an adequate amount of food. It also can’t transfer nutrients or properly support itself from a structural standpoint.

People tend to over prune because they want more sunlight to reach the grass below. If you have this issue, try removing a tree rather than performing structural pruning that could damage the tree in the process.

Related Questions

What are the Signs of a Dying Oak Tree?

Knowing your oak tree isn’t doing well can possibly give you time to remedy the situation. But what would that entail? Here are a few signs that your tree is dying.

  • Brittle bark/cracks. Cracking and brittle bark can indicate that your tree is not getting the proper nutrients.
  • Brown and dying leaves. Another way to tell if your tree is lacking nutrients is the quality of the leaves. Browning or yellow leaves could indicate a lack of nutrients.
  • Lots of critters. If you see more critters than seems normal, it could be that there are wounds in the tree. Bugs tend to flock to those open wounds and some of them carry disease with them.
  • A sudden lean. Is your tree leaning suddenly? That could be an indication that the trunk is weak and is starting to bend. Depending on the severity of the bend, it may be too far gone.
  • Dead branches. Notice a lot of dead branches? That is a strong sign that your tree isn’t getting what it needs to survive.
Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

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