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How to Prune Bur Oak Trees

Bur oak is a very long-lived, hardy tree that also goes by the name mossycup oak. It can develop a massive taproot, as deep as 10 feet. The species does well in prairie habitats, as well as city environments. It is tolerant of drought and requires very little pruning or training. However, doing so can improve a bur oak's shape and health.

Prune bur oak trees during the dormant season only, which is between December and March. They should never be trimmed during the growing season because exposed tissue under the bark will cause insect infestation.

Keep pruning to a minimum in the first 2 years to allow the roots to become established. use shears to remove any shoots that are competing with the central leader or trunk of the tree.

Remove lateral branches that are growing upright instead of sideways in the second to fifth season of growth. Also cut off those that are too big; they should be less than half as thick as the central leader or trunk.

Use pole pruners to remove branches higher up in the tree's canopy. Look for those with V-shaped connections to other limbs, as opposed to stronger, U-shaped connections. This should be done when the bur oak is five to ten years old.

Trim off branches that grow on the bottom of the canopy and face downward. They are not getting the necessary sunlight and air circulation, and are not aesthetically appealing.

Cut broken, diseased or dead branches no matter the age of the bur oak. Trim them in the joint where they meet healthy limbs.

Plant Bur Oak Trees

Gather bur oak acorns as soon as possible after they fall from the trees in autumn. Collect at least twice as many as the number of trees you wish to plant. Dampen slightly, then put the loosely-closed bag in the refrigerator. Make three or four holes in the cup near the bottom with a screwdriver tip or pencil. Set one bur oak acorn in each cup, planting it horizontally just below the surface of the dirt. Add water slowly until it emerges from the holes in the cups, then move the cups to a south-facing window. Move the young seedlings outside in mid-May when they are about 6 inches tall. Measure the distance from the planting location to structures, sewers, electric wires and other trees to be sure you allow enough space for each specimen. Make planting holes as deep as the 32-ounce containers and twice as wide. Continue until all are planted.


Clean pruning tools in between cuts. They can easily transmit disease throughout bur oak trees.

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