Oak Tree Pruning: Getting the Timing Right

Expert insight into the best time to prune an oak tree; the advantages of oak tree pruning, and how to avoid the risk of spreading disease and harming the tree.

The great English oak is possibly the best known tree in Britain, as well as the most prevalent. If you have an oak tree on your land then you will know only too well the heights they can grow to: often up to 20 metres but sometimes this can double to 40 metres.

Why prune an oak tree?

It’s a beautiful tree without a doubt and supports a huge range of wildlife, but the oak does require a fair amount of attention to keep it strong, healthy and attractive. Failure to take good care of your oak and allowing it to grow uncontrollably could result in it becoming diseased and very dangerous.

The importance of regular pruning therefore cannot be over-estimated, particularly as the canopies can become extremely expansive and in doing so will often block light and views.

And then there is the matter of the strong, heavy branches which are prone to shedding if not regularly managed: something that could pose a risk of injury or property damage.

So, when is best to approach the job of pruning an oak tree?

When is the best time to prune an oak tree?

The answer to this question depends on the age of the oak tree.

Young oaks are pruned to promote growth and will respond well to proper pruning, usually sprouting copious new growth. They should be pruned in mid to late winter: December and January are the months recommended by The National Forest Company. During the colder weather, bugs are far less prevalent if not non-existent. The reason this is significant is that bugs can be responsible for the spread of disease.

When you prune a tree, you create a wound. This secretes sap, and bugs adore sap! Sap attracts bugs which come to feed on it, often bringing with them fungal spores and bacteria. This is a major risk, particularly with Oak Decline becoming a widespread problem in recent years across southern areas of England.

The best way to avoid fungal spores spreading is to ensure trees are pruned at a time when the majority of bugs are either hiding away or have been killed by the frost, i.e. the winter months.

As an aside, if any evidence of Oak Decline is detected, then it is crucial to avoid pruning altogether, unless there is a particular risk of falling branches.

Young oak trees should be pruned in mid to late winter

Mature oak trees are usually pruned in order to correct an issue, such as blocked light and airflow, or to prevent the risk of falling dead branches. Whilst there is no hard and fast set of rules concerning the pruning of mature trees – which technically can be trimmed back with the aim of removing dead, diseased or weak limbs at any time of the year – as a rule, wound closure and growth become more enhanced if the pruning is undertaken before the growing season commences in spring.

In addition to this, because oak Decline is as much an issue for the mature tree as it is for the young, ensuring pruning is undertaken during the dormant season (late October to early March) and further still in freezing or near freezing conditions is wise. This is because transmission of disease is virtually impossible outside of warm periods.

Never prune a mature oak tree outside of its dormant period.

Other Considerations

No form of tree work should be carried out without first checking whether there is a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) in place. If there is one, then permission will be required, and this can take up to eight weeks to come through. Similarly, if the tree is located in a conservation area, then again permission will be required for any works.

Oak tree pruning can be hazardous. Growing to towering stature, these trees really do call for expertise in working at height and the thick, heavy branches typical of mature oak trees require specialist cutting equipment.

Using a qualified tree surgeon is the best advice you can take. They will advise on the best timing for your oak tree pruning and will also be able to detect any signs of disease or decay and then let you know what action needs to be taken.

The importance of oak tree pruning expertise

In general, regardless of the type of tree you are looking to trim back, pruning really should not be carried out unless there is a good understanding of tree biology. Incorrect pruning can lead to lasting damage and can even reduce the lifespan of a tree. Expert pruning on the other hand can result in the maintenance of good tree health and structure and a much improved aesthetic appeal.

If you have an oak tree on your land that needs pruning, why not talk to Tree Works? As fully qualified and highly experienced tree surgeons, we are able to offer extensive knowhow when it comes to oak tree pruning. For a free, no-obligation quotation, give us a call on 07781 416 354 or get in touch here.