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How to Prune Red Oak Trees

By Elton Dunn ; Updated September 21, 2017
Red oak acorns
oak image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com

Pruning promotes tree health and allows gardeners to shape and control the size of the tree. Red oaks (Quercus rubra) is not hard to prune when young, but mature trees can reach up to 90 feet, so those with tall red oaks should consider hiring a tree trimming service to reach the tall limbs. Red oaks feature reddish bark and green leaves; there's little red color to the tree. Prune red oaks annually in the late winter to early spring when frost danger passes.

Locate dead, diseased or damaged branches on your red oak tree. Dead branches won't move in the wind and they will feel brittle. Diseased and damaged branches appear blemished, wounded, scarred or otherwise noticeably different than healthy wood.

Mix 1 part bleach and 10 parts water in a bucket. Place your pruning tools in the bucket. Cut off dead, diseased and damaged growth at its base or by pruning back to a healthy lateral branch. In between cuts, dip your pruners in the bleach solution to clean then and prevent spread disease to healthy parts of the tree.

Cut away limbs that crisscross other limbs, since their rubbing wounds the branch eventually. Also cut off shoots that grow vertically straight, those that grow downward and those that impede movement under the tree.

Remove old wood and weak wood to open up the tree canopy. This allows better air circulation and light, which helps ward off disease. Prune away up to 1/3 of the old wood in a season if you want. Clip off branches that grow at less than a 30-degree angle to the tree trunk.

Clip back long branches with your anvil pruners to control their size. Prune back to a lateral branch or a swollen tissue node.


Things You Will Need

  • Bleach
  • Water
  • Bucket
  • Anvil pruners
  • Lopping shears
  • Hand saw


  • Cut branches thicker than 1 inch with a hand saw; use lopping shears for those between 3/4 inch and 1 inch thick. Use anvil pruners for smaller branches.

About the Author


A successful website writer since 1998, Elton Dunn has demonstrated experience with technology, information retrieval, usability and user experience, social media, cloud computing, and small business needs. Dunn holds a degree from UCSF and formerly worked as professional chef. Dunn has ghostwritten thousands of blog posts, newsletter articles, website copy, press releases and product descriptions. He specializes in developing informational articles on topics including food, nutrition, fitness, health and pets.