When is it Safe to Prune Your Oak Trees?

If you live in any of the Midwestern states or in Texas, you have probably heard of Oak Wilt disease. And if you’re like me, all this talk of Oak Wilt has you feeling scared to prune your Oak trees at all.

Don’t be afraid, my friend, it is still safe to prune your Oak trees if you follow a few simple rules.

#1 – Only prune your Oak trees from November 1st through April 1st. Cuts made during the active growing season can attract beetles from up to a mile away. Those beetles (drawn to the scent of the sap exposed at the cut) act as vectors; carrying the Oak Wilt pathogen from infected trees to your tree.

#2 – Keep your Oaks pruned properly. If branches are hanging low over a sidewalk or driveway, the chance of damage to those branches is much higher. Avoiding any injuries to your tree will give it the best chance to avoid infection spread by beetles.

#3 – Use latex paint to protect cuts made during the growing season. If you have to prune your tree due to emergency circumstances during the growing season (April 1st through November 1st), you will need to seal off the wound with some latex paint. It will slow the growth of the wound wood a bit, but this is a better option than risking infection by those pesky beetles. Latex paint is a better option than pruning sealer which contains asphalt and petroleum products which are toxic to plants and can drastically slow the proper healing of the would.

#4 – Sanitize pruning tools in between Oak trees. When pruning your Oak trees, it is good practice to sanitize your tools (hand saws, hand pruners, etc.) with rubbing alcohol. This only really needs to be done in between Oak trees. It will ensure that you don’t accidentally infect your trees if you are pruning more than one.

#5 – Plant new Oaks a minimum of 100 feet away from any other Oak trees. It is believed that 90% of Oak Wilt infections happen through root contact and shared water at the root level. If the trees aren’t close enough to share water, they can’t infect each other underground.

#6 – Trench around Oaks that are suspected to be infected. If you have a tree or trees that are showing signs of Oak Wilt, send off a sample to be tested immediately. If you have no other Oak trees nearby there is really nothing else to be done. But if you do have Oaks that are near the possibly infected tree and #1 – those trees don’t show any symptoms of the infection; and #2 – those trees are closer than 100 feet to the possibly infected tree/s; you will need to dig a trench between them. This trench should be at least 48 inches deep and 100 feet from the infected tree/s and should be back filled immediately. What this will do is cut off any possibility of root contact and prevent the spread of infection by root contact.

#7 – Encapsulating fire wood OR burning firewood immediately. If you have Oaks that have already been killed by Oak Wilt, you must also have a pile of firewood. As you already know, beetles are attracted to the scent of the sap when Oak trees are cut or wounded. To prevent beetles from spreading Oak Wilt from your Oak firewood to healthy Oak trees, you must cover the wood entirely with plastic. This also means creating a barrier between the wood pile and the ground. The wood should be completely encapsulated to cut off the beetles. Clear or black plastic tarps work the best since they will heat up significantly and kill the pathogen.

Tree pruning is so important to maintain healthy growth and to guide our trees into longevity. If you do the pruning work yourself, I’ve linked my favorite tools for you below. If you are unsure about pruning, I’d advise you to hire a tree professional to do the work or to ask a knowledgeable friend to help you. I’ve found that pruning trees with others is extremely helpful and I usually learn something new.

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Products I use and (therefore) recommend:

Planty friends – Feel free to use these links to the products that I use to prune my own trees.  I receive a small percentage of any sales through these links, so feel free not to use them if that bothers you.

Felco F2 Hand Pruners (the best hand pruners on the planet) https://amzn.to/3JrxeCO

Felco F6 Hand Pruners (I use these when my hands begin to tire. They are smaller than F2 pruners and perfect for people with smaller hands.) https://amzn.to/36vk6xU

Classic PRO Hand Pruners (These are a more affordable version of the Felco pruners) https://amzn.to/3N865aC

8″ Curved Folding Pruning Saw (This saw cuts through wood like butter.) https://amzn.to/3NL9tbr

10″ Pruning Saw https://amzn.to/3CWGcpa

References for this article:

Bonello, Pierluigi (Enrico). (2019, Feb. 4). Oak Wilt. Ohioline. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/plpath-tree-02 jiaodjioajf

Johnson, Jerral; Appel, David. (No date given. Info retrieved in Mar. 2022). Eight Step Program to Oak Wilt Management. Texas Plant Disease Handbook. https://plantdiseasehandbook.tamu.edu/landscaping/eight-step-program-to-oak-wilt-management/

(2016, April 14). Wait – Before You Use Pruning Sealer On Trees… Davey. https://blog.davey.com/2016/04/wait-before-you-use-pruning-sealer-on-trees/

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