All trees require ongoing maintenance, but oak trees respond best to a minimalist approach. Photo: Horticultural Services, LTD (2014)

All trees require ongoing maintenance, but oak trees respond best to a minimalist approach. Photo: Horticultural Services, LTD (2014)

With unique and majestic forms that add character to the Northern California landscape, it’s no surprise that Bay Area residents love their oak trees. However, due to rising concerns about the health of indigenous oaks—particularly the recent epidemic of sudden oak death—many property owners have gone on the defensive and become more proactive about preventative maintenance. While this is certainly a positive trend, some people fail to realize that oak trees tend to require minimal maintenance, which means overdoing it can do more harm than good. Here are some basic guidelines to follow when caring for oak trees on your property:

When it comes to watering oak trees, less is more. Oaks enjoy a natural change of seasons, which means they require very little supplementary watering—even over the course of a dry summer, one or two soakings will often suffice. Under no circumstances should an oak be watered more than once a month. Additionally, when adding plants to your landscape, you should avoid situating water-loving plants near oaks, as their needs won’t be compatible.

Keep your trimming light and avoid removing whole branches unless they’re dead or diseased. It’s also important to know which type of oak you have, as the needs of deciduous and evergreen varieties differ. For example, deciduous oaks tend to require more maintenance, so they should be pruned in the winter to optimize new growth in the spring. Conversely, evergreens prefer to be pruned in the summer. Due to the complex nature of pruning, you should consider bringing in a professional who is familiar with proper procedures and techniques.

While fallen leaves provide natural fertilization for oaks, additional measures can help encourage growth in young trees and maintain the ongoing health of mature ones. Like pruning, fertilization should be performed at optimal intervals such as spring, late summer and autumn, when seasonal rainfall will help spread fertilizer throughout a tree’s root system.

Preventative visual inspections
With the prevalence of harmful diseases and insects that threaten oak trees, it’s important to perform periodic visual inspections of a tree’s bark, leaves and other areas, all of which can serve as indicators of its health. For instance, bark growth cracks typically denote a healthy tree, whereas loose or discolored bark may suggest the presence of disease. By educating yourself about visual indicators of oak tree health, you may be able to save yours from a dire situation.

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18 Responses

  1. These seem like great tips for maintaining the trees in my yard. There are a couple of trees that haven’t been looking as healthy as they usually do each year once spring arrives. It seems like I should be doing more to care for my trees than by just pruning them. The information about fertilizing trees will help me to make my trees more healthy. It seems like I should start fertilizing my trees later in the summer and during the fall.

  2. Olivia Sherwin says:

    This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that overdoing maintenance on oak can harm the tree. I recently moved into a new house, and there are a few oak trees on the property. At my old house, there were several trees as well, but they required quite a bit of maintenance, so I’ll keep in mind that I shouldn’t be as involved with my new trees. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Eliza Cranston says:

    Thanks for the tips on oak tree care! I just moved into a house with an old oak tree that has been neglected for years. I’ll get out my pruning shears and give it a good trim and be sure to give it some TLC!

  4. Dee Francis says:

    Fertilizing seems like an important part of taking care of my trees. I should remember to do that this year so that the saplings I’m going to plant will be healthy. Fertilizing them during the spring, late summer, and autumn is good to know, so now I’ll remember to do that.

  5. Justin Knox says:

    Thank you for the help. I have a big oak tree in my front yard that I love, but a few branches have died recently. I have not been in the habit of pruning it, as you suggested. Would it be worth having a professional tree service come take a look at it to see if I can save it?

  6. Judy Wilson says:

    Thanks for these tips for taking care of my oak tree. Trimming my trees without removing whole branches that aren’t dead or diseased seems important for me to keep in mind. I didn’t know that I have to prune it in the winter to help it grow in the spring. I’m glad that you mentioned this since deciduous oak trees require more maintenance.

  7. Lillian Moore says:

    Thanks for the article! I thought it was interesting that you suggest fertilizing your trees, I have never done that. Leaves fall and make for a natural fertilizer to help the tree grow as best it can. Regular watering can help you, as well, to move the nutrients from the natural fertilizer throughout the soil. I really appreciate your advice and I hope to us these tips in the future.

  8. David Hawkins says:

    That’s a really good idea to remove trees limbs that are diseased and dying. I know that I wouldn’t want the possibility of a branch falling off on it’s own and hurting someone or damaging some property. I’ll have to hire a tree trimming service to make sure all my trees are good and safe. Thanks for the info!

  9. Jade Brunet says:

    I have never been good at trimming our trees. I feel like each time I accomplish this task, I either cut away too much or too little. It is nice to know that when pruning, one should keep trimming light and avoid removing whole branches unless they are dead. I will remember this for next time, thanks.

  10. Faylinn says:

    I just had my oak tree removed, because it was dying. However, I am just about to plant a new one and want to make sure that I water it just right so that it doesn’t die on me like the last one did. I honestly had no idea that less was more when it comes to watering and that is good for me to know, because I am sure that I probably over watered the other one.

  11. Johnny McCarron says:

    I really like your advice to prune your tree often. I think that a lot of people don’t understand why they need to trim or prune their trees. However, such care can really help your tree be healthier and last longer. Do you have any other tips about tree care?

  12. John Ferrell says:

    I didn’t know that there were health problems coming up that affected oaks. I recently had my oak removed because it was falling apart. I feel that it was putting my children in danger. Do you think that this is because of age or disease? I didn’t find any termites when they were taking it apart.

  13. Aaron Bath says:

    Oak trees are really beautiful but they can be difficult to maintain. Good tip on the watering part, the regular logic for any plant is to constantly water them but oak trees are similar to succulents where less is truly more. Good job on that tip! Be careful when pruning!

  14. Amanda Gray says:

    I have a small garden, but I do not know enough knowledge about gardening. Your post is helpful. I could learn a lot. Thanks for sharing with us. Do you know about hedge trimmer? If you know please tell me what kind of hedge trimmer is the best for my small garden.

  15. siaosi says:

    I think it would be nice to have my trees taken care of necessarily. I think it would be nice to have all of my trees pruned before the spring. I want to make sure they all bloom in full.

  16. siaosi says:

    I would like to be able to get some plants that will be able to grow higher than ever. I like how you mentioned to use fertilizer. I think it is smart to have something to put the growth processes.

  17. Jason says:

    Those are all awesome tips, but I’m sitting here and wondering if they only apply to maintaining Oak Trees? Please advise

  18. Jeff Kaulbars says:

    These are some very useful, basic tips on oak tree maintenance! This is a perfect blog for people who aren’t sure on how to take care of their oak trees. Thanks so much!

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