How to Trim Live Oak Trees (and Prevent Oak Wilt)

At the time of writing this blog, it’s almost time to trim live oak trees in Austin. Watch our video below or read on to learn why and how you should trim live oaks—and how to prevent that nasty Oak Wilt!

Why trim live oak trees

First…why should you trim your live oak trees in general?

1. It’s good for the tree (if done right):

  • Proper trimming removes dead or diseased branches – which are disease magnets.
  • Allows for better air circulation and sunlight penetration, promoting stronger growth.
  • Decrease excess weight. Proper trimming removes excess branches allowing the tree and its branches to stand more upright. Removing excess weight also decreases the chances of branches breaking due to weather events (ice or wind).

2. Well-trimmed trees look better.

3. Enhance Safety:

  • Guess which branches fall on cars, houses, and pets? I recently had a big oak branch land on my truck…Trimming removes hazardous branches that could fall and cause injury or damage, especially during storms. This is particularly important for trees near homes, driveways, or play areas. 

4. Increase Longevity:

  • Regular maintenance through trimming can extend the life of your oak tree. By addressing potential issues early, you help ensure the tree’s health. 

What is Oak Wilt?

Now that we know some of the reasons to care about trimming your trees, let’s talk about the bane of live oaks in central Texas. Oak wilt is a devastating fungal disease that affects some types of oak trees. Live oaks are the most common type of oak in the area, and they are particularly vulnerable. 

How does Oak Wilt spread?  

Oak Wilt spreads through the interconnected root systems of trees or by TINY beetles (1/8 inch) carrying fungal spores from infected trees to fresh cuts or breaks on healthy trees. Oak wilt can damage, or in some cases, kill oak trees if not handled appropriately. 

How to Avoid Oak Wilt

1. Cut in the Right Season:

  • The ideal time to trim your oak trees is during the hottest summer months or the coldest winter months. We recommend starting oak tree trimming around July 1st. Obviously, trees and beetles don’t know dates, but the hotter temperatures help reduce the spread of oak wilt.

2. Clean Tools:

  • Dirty tools can cause disease. They can even spread oak wilt if they have contacted a tree with oak wilt (though this would be rare). We recommend you spray down your tools with a bleach solution or even Lysol between trimming sessions. 

3. Maintain Tree Health:

  • Healthy trees are hard to get sick. Just like humans, the healthier the tree, the more resistant it will be to diseases. Proper watering, mulching, and fertilization can help keep your oak trees in top shape and prevent the spread of oak wilt. 

4. Seal Wounds:

  • After trimming, apply a tree wound dressing or paint to the cuts. You can find specialty sprays for this.  It looks like spray paint but acts like a tar substance. It will ruin your shirt in a hurry so be careful. Don’t worry about the tiny branches, only stuff thicker around that your thumb. 

How to Trim Live Oak Trees (DIY)

1. Gather Your Tools:

  • You’ll need something for cutting (Chainsaw, loppers, pole saw), a bleach solution for sterilizing, and tree wound dressing. You probably need a ladder – but please please please be careful with a chainsaw and a ladder. 

2. Inspect the Tree:

  • Look for dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Identify branches that cross or rub against each other, as well as those growing inward or downward. Also look for the branches that are too low—you know, the ones that people have to duck on the sidewalk…

3. Make the Cuts:

  • Start with dead or diseased branches: Remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches first. Cut at the branch collar (the swollen area where the branch meets the trunk) to promote proper healing.
  • Thin out the canopy: Remove smaller branches to improve air circulation and light penetration. Aim for a balanced shape and avoid over-thinning. I say again…avoid over thinning. You can always trim more…you can’t put it back. 
  • Prune for structure: Remove any crossing branches or those that grow inward toward the center of the tree. Cut back to a healthy lateral branch or the branch collar.

4. Clean Your Tools:

  • Sterilize your tools.

5. Seal the Wounds:

  • Apply a tree wound dressing to the cuts to protect the tree from oak wilt and other pathogens.

6. Safety First:

  • Always wear protective gear, including gloves and safety glasses. If the branches are large or high up, consider hiring a professional to ensure safety and proper technique.

Of course…if you don’t want to do it yourself…hit that little button below and we would be happy to get you a quote.

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