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Ideal Time to Prune Trees & the Oak Wilt Pruning Season

by Keith Brown
February 2, 2010

Today a customer asked me this question, “We will want the trimming done, but don’t have a date yet. It depends on the progress with the construction. What are the ideal dates for trimming?”

What are the ideal dates for trimming?”


I get asked this question all the time. Aside from the trees’ normal needs, oak wilt gets brought into this conversation because of some recommendations the Texas Forest Service throws out there. Here was my response to this question:

Hi Buddy,

Thanks for the business.

There isn’t one time that is undeniably better to prune. There are some pros and cons to the seasons:

  1. winter: Pros- insect activity is non-existant, trees don’t grow back immediately; Cons- non growing season so wound closure will be slow, some dead limbs might be over-looked.
  2. spring: Pros- explicit knowledge of what limbs died over winter, wound closure is fast; Cons- insect activity high, trees regrow immediately (need to be pruned sooner)
  3. summer: Pros- extreme temperatures minimize insect and disease activity, easy to identify dead limbs; Cons- slow wound closure
  4. fall: Pros- fast wound closure, easy to identify dead limbs; Cons- fungal and insect activity high

This is what I came up quickly off-the-cuff; there are definitely more factors. The main point here is that pruning should be done when you recognize it is needed and when it fits your schedule/budget. One fact that may help here is to know that pruning as a whole has everything to do with long-term health of the tree and structural integrity, and very little to do with short term health. For example, pruning your trees today will do very little for their health next year. But, it will do a lot of good to reduce the likelihood of limb failure during storms and reduce long term stem decay which improves the overall longevity of the trees. The fertilization program we are getting started with will improve the trees health in the short term.

The other hot topic to discuss is oak wilt. Texas Forest Service recommends to avoid pruning between Feb 15 and May 31. This recommendation is targeted to homeowners who they expect will not be knowledgeable about oak wilt implications or how to make a proper cut. The reality is that as long as you do make a proper cut and treat all wounds (during the spring), there is virtually zero likelihood of contracting oak wilt above ground through a pruning wound. As a business owner having to worry about developing a bad reputation, being run out of town or being sued for causing trees to contract oak wilt, I am 100% comfortable pruning your trees any time knowing that they will not contract oak wilt.

The main point here, again, is that timing isn’t critical and you should do it when it works for you.”

Update December 5, 2011

In January this year (about a year ago from now). A new official oak wilt recommendation was released. In my opinion, this is a great improvement and the first recommendation that provides quality and specific information. You can read this oak wilt document on the official TexasOakWilt.org website.

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  • Susan says:

    Hi,
    I came across your blog while wanting more information for the Arizona Ash trees (2) I have in my backyard. A landscaper once told me that any branches, on an Arizona Ash, that are growing downward should be pruned to the parent stem. Is that correct?
    Also, I live in Las Vegas and given the temperatures throughout the year here, I wonder when the best pruning season is? I see pros and cons stated above but on another post you mentioned the seasonal effects on pruning in different areas of the country. What’s best for LV?
    Finally, is there an arborist you might recommend in LV?
    Thanks,
    Susan