How to Trim a Live Oak


A common tree in the southeastern United States, the live oak (Quercus virginiana) is a large sprawling tree that benefits from regular pruning to develop a strong structure. Native to the United States, the live oak can live for several hundred years if well cared for. Annual pruning helps prevent disease by removing unhealthy wood. Live oaks should be pruned annually in late winter to early spring, when frost danger passes for your region.

Step 1

Identify dead or unhealthy wood on your live oak, since this needs to be removed for the health of your tree. Dead wood will not move in the wind and will feel hollow to the touch. Unhealthy wood can be diseased or damaged and will bear scars, wounds, discoloration or blemishes.

Step 2

Prepare a disinfectant solution by mixing one part bleach with 10 parts water in a bucket. Place your tools in the bleach solution. Then cut off unhealthy and dead wood at its base or by trimming back to a healthy lateral branch. In between cuts, dip your tools in the disinfectant solution to cleanse them, which prevents you from accidentally spreading disease to healthy limbs.

Step 3

Trim back long limbs to a lateral branch using lopping shears. Work one branch at a time until you've reduced the size of the tree.

Step 4

Remove branches that cross other branches since this will cause wounding. Also cut off branches that grow downward or impede movement under your live oak tree.

Step 5

Cut off branches that grow too close to vertical. Any branch that makes less than a 30-degree angle with the tree trunk can be cut off at its base since it's growing too close to the trunk.

Step 6

Thin out the canopy to increase air circulation, which keeps trees healthy. Remove limbs from crowded areas by cutting them off at their base. Clip off up to 1/3 of the wood in a given season if you wish.


  • United States Forest Service: Southern Live Oak
  • University of Minnesota: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Keywords: live oak tree, pruning oak trees, trim tree

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Elton Dunn is a freelance writer and nonprofit consultant with 14 years' experience. Dunn specializes in travel, food, business, gardening, education and the legal fields. His work has appeared in various print and online publications. Dunn holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English.