Oak Tree Trimming: How To Keep Oaks Healthy, Safely Remove Dead Oak Limbs

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | October 24, 2023

Man attached to a tree with a lanyard has a chainsaw to perform oak tree trimming, after learning how to trim an oak tree branches, which branches to cut, and when to call a professional tree trimming service.

Oak tree trimming is vital to maintaining healthy, hardy trees, whether you’re dealing with a 20-foot Japanese Evergreen Oak, a 100-foot massive White Oak, or any tree in between.1,2

But, before you gab a chainsaw (or a hand saw) and a ladder, it’s crucial to know when to contact a professional oak tree trimmer or a certified arborist.

Although you can certainly prune oak tree branches yourself, it can be dangerous, and maintaining your safety should be your number one priority.

This guide explains the key details involved in Oak tree trimming, as well as the benefits it can produce and also when to hire the right professionals to do the job for you, if needed.

Oak Tree Trimming: How To Trim Oak Trees

You’re convinced that Oak tree trimming matters. Where do you begin when it comes to proper pruning, though?

Proper steps for Oak Tree Trimming graphics showing a diagram of the different parts of Oak tree to cut off when trimming and some tips for Oak tree pruning which include gathering clean tools, choosing the dominant leader branch, trimming competing leader branches, cutting outside of branch collar, and avoiding over-trimming the tree.

Don’t just grab a chainsaw and start hacking away, follow these steps to ensure you trim your tree correctly:

Collect and Clean Your Tools

What does it take to trim an Oak tree? Make sure you have these tools on hand when you do an Oak tree trimming:

  • Pruning shears (for trimming small branches)
  • Lopping shears (for trimming larger branches)
  • Rope saw (a long chain that you pull from side to side to cut branches
  • Pole pruner (for trimming higher branches)
  • Chainsaw (for cutting off thick branches)
  • Hardhat (for protection from falling limbs)
  • Safety goggles (for protection from dust, leaves, and other debris)

Don’t forget to clean all your tools before getting started, too. Clean between trees as well to avoid spreading diseases.

Choose a Dominant Leader Branch

Look for the branch that is the most vertical and centered. That should be your dominant leader branch.

Next, identify the branches that look like they could turn into leaders and trim them off so that more sunlight reaches the dominant leader, which you’ll leave long and allow to continue growing.

Cut Outside of the Branch Collar

The branch collar is the swollen part of the branch where it connects to the tree trunk.4

Make cuts outside the collar — otherwise, you’ll damage the trunk and harm the tissues needed for healthy growth.

Avoid Over-Trimming

It’s easy to get carried away during the trimming process. However, it’s critical that you don’t remove more than a third of the tree’s canopy during a season.

A full crown creates food and encourages healthy growth throughout the entire tree (especially when your Oak tree is young).

Reasons For Trimming Oak Trees

You can — and should — trim Oak trees for various reasons, including the following:

Increased Safety

Have you ever seen some types of trees that look like it has two (or more) trunks because the primary branches are all roughly the same size?

This is actually a sign of an improperly trimmed tree. It’s also a safety hazard and increases the risk of instability (which could potentially lead to fallen branches and property damage).

Healthier Trees

Regularly trimmed trees are healthier trees. Trimming promotes healthy growth,3 but it also helps all types of Oak trees from growing too quickly.

Too much growth in a short period can cause the tree to use too much energy, which interferes with its ability to fight off diseases and thrive long-term.

Improved Aesthetics

Proper pruning makes your Oak tree look nicer.

When you trim it correctly and consistently, you can ensure it looks nice on your property and doesn’t overtake it.

Healthier Plants All-Around

Tree trimming also contributes to healthier plants across your entire yard.

For example, say your Oak tree becomes overgrown and creates a lot of shade, excessive shade could hinder the growth of your grass, flowers, and other plants.

How To Hire the Right Oak Tree Trimming Team

Are you intimidated by the idea of trimming your Oak tree yourself?

If the tree is older and the branches that need trimmed are far from the ground, it can be a better idea to hire a pro, who will bring the right equipment to do the job.

Eye-level shot of a Live Oak Tree showing its trunk with deep fissures and moss and green foliage that needs proper Oak tree care.

Typically, an arborist or tree trimming service can do the hard work for you.

They will give you peace of mind and ensure you see great results right away.

Here are some tips for choosing the right arborist to do the Oak tree trimming for you:

Make Sure They’re Certified: Follow Oak Tree Trimming Rules

You wouldn’t work with an uncertified plumber or electrician, right? Why would you hire an uncertified arborist?

Always partner with someone who has earned an International Society of Arboriculture certification.5

This certification shows that they’ve done the hard work required to pass a rigorous exam and have in-depth knowledge about all things related to Oak tree care and maintenance.

Consider Professional Affiliations

If your arborist is affiliated with other professional organizations, such as the Tree Care Industry Association or the American Society of Consulting Arborists.6,7

Being part of groups like this is a sign that the arborist is committed to continuing education and wants to stay informed about the latest research, best practices, etc.

Ensure They Have Insurance

Only hire an insured arborist or tree-trimming company. They should have personal and property damage insurance and workers’ compensation insurance.

As a homeowner who hires someone to work for you, ultimately, you are responsible for any mishaps if you contract with someone who doesn’t have state-required insurance.

As long as they do, you won’t have to worry about being held responsible if something goes wrong if they’re properly covered.

Get References for Oak Tree Pruning and Oak Tree Car

You’ll never regret taking the time to check references when hiring someone to do a job as important as trimming your Oak tree(s).

Ask for names and contact information for a few past customers. Then, get in touch to learn about their experience and discover potential warning signs.

Think Beyond the Final Price Tag of the Oak Tree Trimming Services

The cost of arborist can be pricey, but don’t give in to the temptation to choose the arborist who quotes the lowest price.

Consider all other factors, such as experience, professional affiliations, and references when you’re planning to hire a professional to do the Oak tree trimming for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Oak Tree Trimming

How Do I Know Which Branches To Cut Off?

If you’re pruning a newly planted Oak tree, only trim dead or broken branches. When the tree is three years old, you can prune it more thoroughly, choose a dominant leader branch, and begin shaping it.

Why Should I Only Trim My Oak Tree in the Winter?

Trim Oak trees in the winter exclusively to avoid a condition called “oak wilt.”8 Oak wilt is caused by a fungus, Bretziella fagacearum. Sap-feeding beetles introduce this fungus to your tree through fresh wounds if you trim it during the warmer seasons.

What Should I Do When I’m Done Pruning?

Cover the wounds with sealant when you finish trimming your Oak tree. Sealant will keep the Oak trees safe from pests and diseases while they heal from pruning.

Can You kill an Oak Tree By Trimming It?

Many people wonder, can you kill an oak tree by trimming it, and the answer is yes, if the oak trim technique is severe or done over many spring seasons.


1Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (2015, 1 April). QUERCUS ACUTA: JAPANESE EVERGREEN OAK. UF | IFAS Extension. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST539>

2Auckley, J. (1999, November 2). The Mighty White Oak. Missouri Department of Conservation. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://mdc.mo.gov/magazines/conservationist/1999-12/mighty-white-oak>

3Wade, G. L., & Westerfield, R. R. (2022, June 8). Basic Principles of Pruning Woody Plants. University of Georgia Extension. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B949&title=basic-principles-of-pruning-woody-plants>

4Purcell, L. (2021, June 17). Purdue Landscape Report: Branch Component Identification for Better Pruning Cuts. Purdue University | Extension – Forestry and Natural Resources. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://www.purdue.edu/fnr/extension/purdue-landscape-report-branch-component-identification-for-better-pruning-cuts/>

5International Society of Arboriculture. (2023). ISA Home Page. ISA. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://www.isa-arbor.com/>

6Tree Care Industry Association, Inc. (2023, August 25). Tree Care Industry Association Home Page. TCIA. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <http://www.tcia.org/>

7American Society of Consulting Arborists. (2023). American Society of Consulting Arborists Home Page. ASCA | American Society of Consulting Arborists. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <http://www.asca-consultants.org/>

8WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES. (2023). Oak Wilt. Wisconsin DNR. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/foresthealth/oakwilt>