Pruning oak trees – [How and when to prune]


When speaking of the oak, reference is usually made to a wide variety of species, all belonging to the genus Quercus. But this time we will talk about what we can consider the most common variety, and it is the one that when we talk about oak is the first that comes to mind. It is the Quercus robur species, which is a large tree with much appreciated wood. We will analyze how and when it is necessary to prune an oak tree. Answering yes to the question; Is it really necessary to prune an oak?, and in what circumstances it is necessary to do it.


As we will see in the following sections, pruning an oak is generally necessary to do it in adult specimens, that is, a fairly large tree. This makes the task difficult to perform and is not recommended for a novice pruner to do. It is more the best thing is that a pruning in height of this type is carried out by a professional in the field.

Pruning oak trees
Curious fact: oaks are characterized by being able to reach very advanced ages. To the point that there are specimens that are 1000 years old, something really incredible, right?

1. Why to prune Oak trees


Regarding the pruning of oak tree, there are two well-defined opinions. There are the pruners who recommend pruning thoroughly and very regularly, and the pruners who say that an oak tree should never be pruned. They are two extreme positions, right?

And you may ask, what do we think at To begin with, if we are writing an article about pruning oak tree, you can imagine that we are not among the pruners who maintain that pruning should never be done. But we also don’t think you have to prune too often.

The reasons why we believe it is necessary to prune an oak treeare the following:

  • Cut those dead or dry branches, which with the wind can come off and cause an accident.
  • Remove diseased branches. Although oak tree are very healthy trees, in certain cases they can be attacked by some diseases or pests. Cutting the attacked branch is usually the best way to combat the problem, preventing it from spreading throughout the plant.
  • Cut branches that are developing in an unwanted direction. This usually happens for example if you have the oak tree near your house. If a branch begins to grow on the roof of the house, it is better to cut it, this will prevent it from falling in the future and causing damage or accidents.
  • Oak trees give very good shade, there is no doubt about that, a shade that you cannot take advantage of if your environment is full of low branches. Removing these low branches will improve the use of your shade.
  • Although oak tree are not recommended for planting on public roads, it is very common to find them both on sidewalks and in squares. On these occasions it is necessary to prune periodically to avoid possible accidents due to falling branches.
  • In general it is not necessary to prune them when they are small to form them. Since they naturally form very well. But if you notice a branch developing in the wrong direction, it’s worth pruning.
  • It is better to prevent two branches from crossing and causing friction between them. That is why it is good to cut one of these branches to avoid the problem.

These are the most important reasons why you should prune an oak tree. As you can see, we do not recommend pruning regularly, but you should do it in special cases.

2. Topping an oak tree, good or bad?


Topping in oak trees, as in almost all plants, is not a very desirable practice. It may only be an option in extreme cases, such as when the plant is making contact with a power line, when the stability of the plant is affected, or after severe damage sustained by a major storm or hurricane.

This practice consists of removing an important part of the treetop, seeking to reduce the height of the oak. Severe cuts are made on the main branches until they become stumps. This has serious negative consequences for the health and structural integrity of the tree.

Here are some of the biggest negatives:

  • Tree health: Cutting a large amount of foliage substantially reduces the capacity for photosynthesis. In this way the oak will be stressed, which can have a serious impact on its immune system. Therefore it will be more susceptible to attack by pests and diseases.
  • Decay and Rot: Large cuttings that are made are susceptible to decay and rot. If they are not sealed correctly, it is almost inevitable that different pathogens and insects will enter through these cuts.
  • Weak regrowth: it is very probable that multiple, fast-growing and loosely attached branches will be generated after topping. These shoots are more prone to breaking, especially during storms, and their weak attachment to the main branches can create dangerous conditions.
  • Aesthetics and structure of the tree: although the aesthetic aspect is the least important, we cannot leave it aside. If you have your oak in the garden, after the topping it will not be good at all. In fact, it will never go back to its original structure.

Rather than topping, proper pruning techniques are recommended. We will discuss proper pruning techniques in later sections of this post. The best way to avoid topping these plants is to properly select the location when planting. Don’t forget that oaks are big plants.

3. What tools you need to prune


There are several tools available for pruning a oak tree, you will have to choose between one or the other depending on several factors, the most important is the age (height) of the oak. Among the tools you can use are the following:

  • Hand Pruning Shears: Stems up to half inch in diameter can be pruned with hand shears.
  • Lopping Shears: It is suitable to use on stems between half inch and 2 inches in diameter.
  • Saws: A number of pruning saws are available. These saws come with either curved or straight blades and of variable lengths and points. Curved blades that cut on the draw stroke are easy to use.
  • Chainsaw: for the thickest branches the most recommended is the use of these saws with motor, in adult birches you will surely need them.
  • Ladder, crane, scaffolding: since once adults these trees become very tall, you will need some strength that allows you to rise to perform pruning in height. Against this we always recommend that whoever is going to perform pruning tasks at height be a professional in the field.
  • Elements of personal safety: any pruning task entails risks, and if it is also carried out at height the risks increase. Keep all the protection elements available (helmet, harness, gloves, glasses, etc.). And as we noted in the previous point, try not to take risks and hire a pruning professional for risky tasks like this.

Keep in mind that you must disinfect all the tools before pruning your oak tree. This will help prevent disease transmission, you will have to do it before you start pruning and every time you change plants.

3.1 How to care for and disinfect your tools

Taking care of your tools will allow you to extend their life. While disinfecting them will help you avoid a possible spread of diseases from one plant to another.

Let’s start by quickly reviewing the care:

  • Use the right tool for a job and avoid twisting or straining it.
  • Clean and oil tools regularly by wiping an oily cloth on blades and other surfaces.
  • Keep cutting edges sharp by regularly using an oilstone.
  • Wooden handles should be varnished or regularly treated with linseed oil to keep them from cracking or splintering.

I personally know three simple methods to disinfect your tools, and they are the following:

  • Method 1: rub the scissors blades with a cloth dipped in alcohol (ethanol). After cleaning, allow the tool to sit for a couple of minutes for maximum disinfection efficiency.
  • Method 2: prepare a mixture 1/9 of chlorine and water (one part of chlorine and 9 of water). Then soak the scissors for half an hour in that mixture. After those 30 minutes you can start pruning.
  • Method 3: this third method is effective but from my point of view not so recommended. Here what you should do is pass the blade for a few seconds through a flame. This will disinfect but also burn the blade.

4. When to prune oak tree (Pruning time)


Many times when we need to prune an oak, it does not allow us to select the right moment. This happens especially when we have to cut branches that can cause accidents due to their fall. But it is nice to be able to schedule the pruning and choose the time to do it. And what is the best time to prune an oak tree?

The best time to prune an oak tree is during the winter. That is to say those months in which the plant is in a stage of lethargy. This way it won’t lose as much sap through wounds, and then when spring comes, it can heal quickly.

Obviously, depending on the hemisphere where you live, the months for pruning change. For the northern hemisphere you should prune between January and March, while in the south between July and September.

You may also be interested in knowing about pruning:

5. How to prune oak tree – Trimming rules


We have already answered the question why should an oak tree be pruned? And when should you prune? Now it’s time to see how we should carry out the pruning. What we will see here will be the general trimming rules, if you respect them at least you will not be making serious mistakes.

For the case we will divide the analysis in two; young oak tree and mature oak tree.

5.1 Pruning youg oak tree

An oak tree can always develop better if it grows from a main or leader trunk, which must have a vertical and centered position. Naturally, the oak seeks this shape, but sometimes it may be necessary to find and orient a branch so that it becomes the main one. Of course this must be done with pruning.

Look for the strongest vertical and centered branch of your young oak. And cut off any branches that might compete with it, so all energy will go into the development of this guide. Allow this guide branch to continue to develop in height and vertically. From it, the secondary branches that will form the structure of the crown should develop.

If you notice that one branch is intertwining with another, remove one of the two branches. It also removes branches that grow in the wrong direction, for example when a branch grows into the canopy.

If a branch is diseased or has dried up for any reason, cut it off. In this way you will prevent other parts of the plant from getting sick and in the process it will stop wasting energy on a sick branch.

5.2 Adult oak tree pruning

An adult oak plant should not be pruned unless there is a very clear reason. That should have been clear from what was discussed in the previous section.

If for some reason the pruning that you have to do to the oak tree is very strong, that is to say that you have to cut a large number of branches, try to divide the pruning into several stages as much as possible. This will reduce the stress caused by heavy pruning. Preferably divide the pruning over a couple of years.

Another point to keep in mind when pruning an adult oak is that the branches to be cut are usually large. Therefore, it should not be cut in one cut.

You must first make a cut in the lower part of the branch (at a distance of between 30-60 cm from the trunk). Then make a cut at the top a few inches further from the trunk. This will prevent the branch from ripping away some of the bark from the trunk as it falls. When the branch falls, you can carefully cut off the excess part of the branch that was left on the trunk.

Lastly, a no less important point is the placement of healing paste on the wounds that you have left on the plant after pruning. With this you will prevent diseases or pests from entering and you will also help faster healing and recovery.

5.3 How to trim an oak tree without killing it

As we have been maintaining in this post, pruning an oak is not something that should be done on a regular basis. These plants could live and develop perfectly if we don´t prune it. This situation makes many people “afraid” to prune their oak tree because it could kill it.

So that you can prune your oak tree without killing it, follow these short and quick tips:

  • Performing the pruning at the right moment will make the plant recover better and suffer less stress.
  • Do not do an excessively strong pruning. Never prune more than 1/3 of the total branches. If you need a very strong pruning, do it on a scheduled basis in several prunings, this way you will allow it to recover in a better way.
Excessive pruning of an adult oak – Image source
  • Use healing paste on wounds caused by holm oak tree pruning.
  • If the branch to be cut is very thick, make you two cuts, one above and one below. In this way the process is safer and at the same time you prevent the bark from falling off the trunk when the branch falls.
  • Never use tools without disinfecting.
  • If you are new to pruning, it would not be a good idea to prune an adult oak tree. High pruning is complicated and dangerous. It is better to hire a professional for the job.

6. Cost to trim oak tree


As we have been commenting, pruning adult oak trees is a complicated and dangerous task. For this reason, it is always preferable to hire the service of a professional in the field to carry out the pruning correctly.

This situation makes many people ask the following question: How much will it cost me to prune my oak? Although our blog is merely informative, we do not provide pruning services, we have done a little research to find out the approximate amount that you can be charged for a service of this type.

For this type of work, whose budget depends on many factors (height of the tree, type of pruning required, location of the plant, area where you live), it is impossible to give an exact figure. But the price range can vary between $150 and $1500. In any case, here are some websites where you yourself can find budgets for this type of work.

7. Pruning an oak tree to keep it small, is it possible?


This is a fairly common question that comes up when talking about pruning oak trees. With everything seen so far I can tell you that yes, keeping a small oak tree by pruning is possible. As long as those small parameters are not too demanding. That is to say, you cannot pretend to have an oak tree all your life with an emtro in height, that would already be a bonsai.

Pruning done correctly can help control the size and shape of the tree while maintaining its health. However, never forget that oak trees are naturally large and long-lived, so pruning may not be enough. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Pruning should start early: Start pruning when the oak is young. This allows you to shape your growth and establish a desired structure early on.
  • Choose the right pruning technique: Use selective pruning methods such as crown thinning, crown thinning, and crown raising to remove specific branches or reduce the overall density of the tree. This will help maintain its shape while allowing proper air circulation and sunlight penetration.
  • Don’t Forget Regular Pruning: Regularly check and prune your oak tree to remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches. In this way, you will promote the overall health of the tree and avoid potential hazards.
  • Do not over-prune: While pruning helps control the size of the oak, over-pruning can cause serious damage to the health of the plant. Performing periodic pruning will help you never need excessively hard pruning.
  • Consult an arborist: if you are not sure about the pruning you are going to do, remember that there are specialists in the field who can help you. If you really love your oak, spare no expense when it comes to taking proper care of it.

Finally, you should never lose sight of the fact that oaks are big trees. If what you need is a small plant, the best option is to plant a small plant. That will be healthier for the plant and will require less attention from you. In other words, it eliminates two problems in one.

8. Trimming an Oak Tree Properly


As with every article in this blog, we like to end it with a video, from which you can see graphically all or part of what has been explained so far. For this occasion, we have taken a very good video from the Kelly Concepts, I have no doubt that it will be very useful to see it. 😉

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