Red Oak Pruning Question

Asked July 14, 2020, 1:17 PM EDT

We just planted a 12-foot Red Oak in our front yard in Mankato. A friend (with a master's degree in horticulture) suggested that we prune the second biggest branch this winter in the name of having only one "leader." Could you please look at the attached photos and let us know if you agree with her advice? We are wondering if you could already consider the branch that starts slightly further up than the second biggest branch which is also the branch that reaches highest in the sky to be the leader even while keeping its closest competitor intact. Thanks! Annie and Randy

Blue Earth County Minnesota

2 Responses

I think this is good advice. Establishing a strong leader early on in the tree's life will lead to a healthier tree and a more pleasing shape. I also agree that the winter months are best to prune once the tree is dormant and the leaves have dropped. This will lower the risk of disease and make it easier for you to make a proper cut.

I have additional information from a researcher in our Dept. of Forest Resources. "I'm inclined to agree with Annie and Randy on retaining the shorter, yet straighter leader. These decisions are difficult to make and often result in outcomes that are unpredictable, it goes without saying that removing the top of the tree will result in other pruning needs the result as apical dominance is lost. In the past I've made a lot of pruning recommendations via email and phone, my current model includes recommending an arborist to perform the work and no longer offer advice remotely."

So in summary, the shorter leader would be better to leave and remove the larger leader. However, the researcher also recommends you contact a certified arborist for pruning help. This may seem like a lot for a single cut, but this is probably one of the most important cuts you'll make on this tree and it's good you are considering it early on in the tree's life. You can find a certified arborist using our webpage How to hire a tree professional: