11 Reasons To Cut Down Your Oak Tree (And When To Do It)

The trunk and branches of old oak tree

That majestic oak tree is a beautiful sight to behold when it’s big and healthy. But that same beauty can be a nuisance it’s growing too close to your house. Though it may pain you to do so, you might have to cut down your oak tree!

You may need to cut down your oak tree if it has recently sustained too much storm damage, is leaning close to your house, or may fall on your own or other’s property. Oak trees that have expanding roots leading to foundation or sidewalk damage should be taken down.

Trees can bring on a sense of pride, add value to your property, or even hold sentimental value, but they don’t last forever. Keep reading as we discuss the reasons you should cut down your oak tree!

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Cut Your Oak Tree If Its Too Close To Your Property

Oak trees need between 15 to 25 feet of distance from structures to be safe so they can grow without too much crowding. If your oak tree is getting a little close for comfort, you may have to cut it down.

A new seedling or sapling might be able to be moved to a new home, but once the tree gets established, it will be too big and too heavy to try and move. The root system will be spread much farther than the canopy, and damaging them could permanently damage the tree.

When a tree is very close to the house, branches that will inevitably fall could damage the roof, windows, or vehicles. Even healthy branches can get snapped off during rain storms, high winds, or snow and ice.

If the oak tree was to fall, it could severely damage the house and require extensive repairs. I’ve seen trees that weren’t considered big, shear off whole rooms when they have fallen.

A tree that has grown too close to the house needs to go for safety’s sake. In most cases, there are a few ways that you can get rid of oaks, but if your tree is large, the best option is most likely to cut it down.

You Should Cut Down Oaks That Stop Growing

Old-growth oak tree

Maybe your oak tree has stopped growing completely. It’s been looking rather weak for several seasons, but now the bark is falling off all over, the leaves don’t grow anymore, and the bare wood is looking gray. These are signs the tree is dead or dying and needs to be removed.

Trees nearing the end of their lifecycle become more dangerous as branches get weaker and tend to fall off seemingly at random. It could be a fine, blue sky, not a cloud around, without a breeze, but a big oak tree limb still careened down from the tree. When trees are no longer living, the wood gets weaker and large chunks can fall at any time.

Weakened trees also attract insect pests like termites and carpenter ants. When these insects start drilling through the trees, they get even weaker.

When you start seeing signs like this, go ahead and get someone to remove the tree. Being proactive will prevent damage from a falling tree and help keep pests from spreading to otherwise healthy trees.

If you have a specific issue, take a look at our guide on how to stop caterpillars on your oak tree here!

Get Rid Of Dying Oak Trees

Hopefully, if you do have a dying oak tree you can treat it before it gets too bad, but if the illness has caused significant damage, the only option might be to have the tree cut down altogether. 

Signs of failing trees can include yellowing, browning leaves, or early drop before autumn. This could also be signs of drought so getting a tree expert out can let you know for sure. 

Other signs of afflicted oak trees are branch dieback, fungus, bark peeling and falling off, or powdery moldy looking growth on the tree. If you see any of these signs the tree might have some kind of issues that needs to be treated. 

Many tree afflictions can be spread to other trees on your property if they are not properly treated. These problems bring on the insect issues as well. 

They seem to sense weak trees and attack when they are feeling down. It’s nature’s way of weeding out the weak and keeping the strong. If you notice these problems early and get an expert out to treat them, you might be able to save your oak tree!

If too much time has passed and the tree is too far gone though, the best option might be to go ahead and remove the oak tree completely.

You can view our full guide on the most common dying oak tree issues here!

Chop Down Leaning Oak Trees

The fourth reason you might have to cut down your oak tree is that it has begun to take on a precarious lean. 

Your oak tree could be growing a bit lopsided for any number of reasons, but now it’s looking a little suspect. You might be able to get away with trimming it in a way it levels out, but if the lean is too severe, you might have to cut the oak down. 

Oak tree roots don’t grow very deep. They may extend dozens of feet beyond the canopy, but they only go about 18 inches (1.5ft) deep. I mention this because if the tree has too severe of a lean, the roots will simply get ripped out of the ground when the tree finally gives way. 

So, if your oak tree is leaning like a horseshoe on the peg, you’ll most likely have to have it cut so it doesn’t fall on its own.

If you’re wondering about your specific oak tree species, you can take a look at our piece on how long oak trees live!

You Can Cut Down Hollow Oak Trees

Old oak tree in sunlight

A tree with a hollow trunk may live for many years because the living part of the tree is just under the bark. All the nutrients and water flow through a couple of layers just under the surface of the tree. 

It may look relatively healthy except for that gaping hole in the trunk that travels up through it. Or maybe a branch fell off and you see a black hole of nothingness inside. Something has tipped you off that your big oak tree isn’t as solid as it appears. 

While trees in the wilderness with hollow trunks and branches in them can house a lot of wildlife, you don’t want all that in your yard. While hollow trees offer great shelter to animals such as porcupines, and several birds including hawks, owls, woodpeckers, squirrels, and martens, unfortunately, the tree is unsafe in your yard. 

Hollow trees don’t have a fraction of the strength and integrity that full, solid trees have. Branches can fall out of the canopy easier. If insects or rot are active inside the trunk of the tree, it could eventually cause the tree to topple over. 

According to The University of Maryland Extension, The xylem and phloem of a tree are the life support tissues. A tree with a hollow trunk can live for years but will have compromised strength. If one-third of the tree is hollow or rotten, it needs to be cut down. 

Bad Storm Damage May Force You To Cut Down Your Oak

Storm damage can mean wind knocking branches off or splitting the trunk of the tree or a lightning strike that has damaged the tree beyond repair. If the tree is so damaged from the elements that removing it is the only option, then it must be done.

Oak trees are also susceptible to ice damage. When you get heavy snow or especially freezing rain that coats the branches in thick layers of ice, the branches could snap. Some trees bend more than others like arborvitae, sweetgum, and black walnut which are more resistant to ice damage.

You’ll also find that storm damage is likely to strip the oak trees bark as well.

Some oak varieties tend to break with ice and snow, so if any of these storms cause too much damage to your oak tree, you’ll likely have to get it cut down. Especially if the crown or trunk is severely damaged.

If it’s been affected by a thunder storm, you can take a look at our guide on how to save your oak tree struck by lightning!

Cut Down Oaks With Prolonged Insect Infestation

Procession caterpillar nest on the treen trunk of an oak tree

It’s inevitable. If you own property with vegetation, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when you’re going to get an insect infestation of some type. Oak trees are no different. 

Though there aren’t many bugs that can cause severe damage to oak trees, a continued or persistent insect infestation could mean major problems. 

The most popular bugs that damage oak trees include the tent caterpillar, oak worm caterpillars, and bark beetles. 

You’ve most likely seen tent caterpillars in the trees at some point in your life because they make big clumps of what looks like thick spider webs in the canopy of trees. They typically reach peak numbers during the dog days of summer. 

The caterpillars themselves are fuzzy, usually have a whitish stripe down the middle of the back or on the sides, and can have spots that resemble eyes on the sides. They look rather creepy and dangerous but they are harmless to people. 

They live in these silk-covered nests eating leaves and growing bigger until they morph into moths. Then they only live for a few days, mate, and die. 

To get rid of a small infestation of tent caterpillars, you should cut down any nests you see with this DocaPole 6-24 Foot Double-Duty Telescoping Extension Pole + GoSaw. Once you have removed the nests from the tree, dunk them into a bucket of soapy water to drown the worms. 

If you have a heavy infestation, or the tree is very tall, you should call your local tree expert to help you tend to the problem. 

Oakworm caterpillars usually have two spikes near the head and may have spines running down their back, but they are considered harmless to humans as well. These critters also eat the leaves of oak trees, but without making the unsightly silken clusters like tent caterpillars. 

If your oak tree has a large enough infestation of oak worms, they can strip an entire oak tree canopy, leaving it struggling to make enough food for itself. This can systematically destroy the tree if it can’t create enough food for itself. 

Bark beetles are small, cylindrical, brown, or black beetles up to ⅙ of an inch long. The problem with these beetles is when you see them all you can do is give up on the tree. Once they have set in, it means the tree is too far gone to save it because they will not infest a healthy oak. 

According to UC Berkeleyonce bark beetles start attacking the trunk of an oak tree, insecticides won’t help it. The oak is so far gone that it is severely compromised and can’t be saved.

Depending on the severity and type of insects on your oak tree, you may have to get it removed. Consulting a professional tree company will give you more insight into whether the tree can be treated for the pests, or if it can’t be saved and needs to be removed. 

Cut Down Oaks That Cast Too Much Shade

A large healthy oak tree can create a lot of shade which can make it hard to grow grass. Most grass love full sun, and often need plenty of water and fertilizer to keep it growing green, lush, and healthy. So having a big shade tree, and lush lawn often seems impossible to attain.

You might be able to trim off the lower branches of the oak tree to let in enough sun for the grass to grow, but if the tree is a low-growing, long-spreading type, you’ll end up doing more harm to the tree.

Oak trees have a lot of leaves that create a large amount of shade. This shade can easily impede the growth of other plants within the area.

You might be able to find shade-tolerant grass for the area underneath the oak. Then you have to contend with the problem of having two different grass species that require alternating care and may look out of place.

Oak trees have shallow roots which can rise out of the ground which makes the yard look unsightly, as well as difficult to mow without messing up mower blades.

Grass also often requires extra watering and fertilizer. Depending on the oak species, this lawn care regimen can often slowly harm the tree. Ultimately leading to the removal of the tree anyway. For these reasons, you may want the oak tree removed from your yard.

Cut Down Oaks That Cause Power Line Troubles

 Trees and power lines seem to be adversaries because they never get along. Trees that grow into power lines can break them, grow around them, or even end up electrifying branches.

Often, trees that are near power lines are simply cut away from them or completely topped. This kind of aggressive cutting can permanently damage the tree or at the very least leave it looking lopsided and ugly.

When a tree is topped, it means all or most of the canopy is cut away. Sometimes this leaves the tree with few branches and no leaves. Leaving what looks like a sad, spike-less, bark-covered cactus. While some trees will still cling to life and try to grow more branches and leaves, the tree is left in a very weakened state and often dies after a few seasons.

Supposing the tree survives the heavy trimming, or only needs a quarter of the branches removed, it will only require frequent trimming to keep the branches away from the lines. Most times it’s simply best to go ahead and remove the tree to prevent any new problems, especially if it has been topped.

If you do cut down the tree down, you can save the oak tree for firewood!

You Should Cut Down Crowded Oak Trees

Old oak and hornbeams in natural late summer deciduous stand of bialowieza forest,poland,europe

When overcrowding happens between trees, you end up with a grove of weak, competing trees that can fall, or invite disease and pests. All trees require a certain amount of sunlight, and the tallest trees tend to get the most.

If you have several oak trees grouped, they will all be competing for enough sunlight to stay strong and healthy. Often they will grow tall, and only really leaf out at the top as they try to take in as much sun as possible before the other tree starts “throwing shade.”

The crowded trees then start to get top-heavy because the lower branches don’t get enough light and fall off. This can lead to trees falling over, especially in high winds or heavy storms. In the forest, this works out fine as the weaker trees are weeded out, but on your property, it can lead to costly repairs and clean-up.

When your trees become too crowded, call up a professional tree company who can help you decide which trees to thin out, and which ones to keep.

Cut Down Oak Trees With Root Issues

Oak tree roots can become a problem if you have pavers, sidewalks, driveways, or other concrete/asphalt structures in the vicinity of an oak tree. Their roots are shallow and can cause cracks in concrete and raise them creating trip hazards.

Though this typically happens closer to the tree’s trunk, an oak’s roots can grow 4 to 7 times wider than the tree’s canopy. Anything on the ground in this area is at risk of being cracked or lifted by the shallow roots. These roots can also penetrate your home’s foundation and cause very costly damage.

You can use root inhibiting chemicals to stop the flow of them or install barriers around your foundation to keep the roots from getting under the foundation and loosening the soil. You can also cut the roots back if you see they are becoming a problem, but this can cause other issues.

Aside from bringing nutrients to the tree, roots also act as an anchor to keep the tree upright. When you start reducing the roots by chemical means or cutting, it could damage the tree. If you live in a high wind or heavy rain area, trimming roots could make it easier for the oak tree to topple over.

An arborist will be able to tell you which roots can be cut, if that is an option, or whether the tree needs to be taken down completely. You don’t want cracked slabs or a sidewalk that’s as hilly as a roller coaster because of tree roots.

Considerations Before Taking Down Your Oak

Now that you know the reasons you may need to cut your oak tree, you might have to take other considerations in mind. Is your neighborhood part of an HOA, is the tree in question situated on an easement, or does the tree share property with a neighbor’s yard?

Maybe – you might just decide that you need to only trim your oak tree after the fact!

Before doing anything drastic to your tree, check on those things. If you are part of an HOA, make sure you can take the tree down by checking closely over the rules and regulations. You may need to call the committee to make sure there won’t be any issues with taking the tree down.

An easement is a part of your property that others can use for different reasons depending on the type. Some great examples include a driveway that a neighbor has to use to get to their property, or a utility easement, which, let’s say the water department can use to lay pipes on your property. 

If the tree in question is located on or near an easement, you may have to get permission to remove it. Check with your local property assessor to find out.

When the tree that needs to come down is on a shared property line, or very close to one, you might have to get the neighbor’s permission as well. To be sure, check with your county or local laws and hopefully you are on good terms with your neighbors.

If you’re going to cut down your oak tree in a non sensitive area (such as in a field with NO surrounding structures), I highly recommend taking a look at our piece on the 10 different ways to remove your oak tree – it’ll help you make the right choice!

When Is The Best Time To Cut Your Oak?

Depending on the state of the tree and how damaged it is, you might need to wait to cut the tree down. Of course, if the tree is ready to fall, is being held up by another tree, or is damaged severely in any way, you should have it removed as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, if the tree isn’t in danger of falling at any second, waiting a little while could save you some money and be safer.

Tree companies are often very busy during the summer months, and throughout the stormy season.

After a hurricane has barreled through tree companies might not have time to cut your tree down, or they will charge quite a bit more because they are so busy, they are paying their employees overtime. That cost is passed on to the consumer.

Waiting until late fall or during the winter when business slows down could get you a deal. Tree companies will often offer discounted rates or coupons during the slow months to get business.

Call around in the cooler months if the tree can wait, your wallet will thank you!

Trimming or cutting your oak tree after all the leaves are gone is also safer. It’s easier to see where all the branches are without all the leaves getting in the way. With all the leaves gone, it’s also easier for the tree-cutting personnel to guide the branches down after they are cut without secondary damage.

Replacing Your Old Oak Trees

Small oak seedling

After you have your oak tree removed for whichever reason, why not plant another in its place…or two, three…

They don’t have to be oak trees to replace the one you just removed. You may be hesitant to go through such a big undertaking again, that’s understandable, so you could plant a tree that doesn’t get nearly as big as oak trees.

Go with something ornamental like a flowering, weeping cherry, a couple of Bradford pear trees, or maybe even a Japanese maple or two.

You can get this beautiful Two Pack of Japanese Red Maple Trees for a great price. They are small enough (1 to 2 feet tall) to plant nearly anywhere and only grow to 10 to 15 feet tall. Hardy in zones 5 to 8. They don’t require a ton of maintenance and can be beautiful focal points for your landscaping.

You can also view our article on picking out a new oak tree sapling for more info!

That’s A Wrap!

It may be painful to cut down that oak tree in your yard, but there are times when there is no other alternative. Whether it’s been damaged from a storm, is infested with bugs, or has finally reached the end of its life there are several reasons you’ll have to cut down your oak tree.

We hope this guide has helped you make a decision on what to do next!

References

Garbelotto, Matteo, Pavel Svihra, and David Rizzo. “New pests and diseases: Sudden oak death syndrome fells 3 oak species.” California agriculture 55.1 (2001): 9-19.

Boyd, I. L., et al. “The consequence of tree pests and diseases for ecosystem services.” Science 342.6160 (2013): 1235773

Panzavolta, Tiziana, et al. “Tree pathogens and their insect-mediated transport: Implications for oak tree die-off in a natural park area.” Global Ecology and Conservation 15 (2018): e00437.

Martin, Tina, and Thomas Günther. “Complex resistivity tomography (CRT) for fungus detection on standing oak trees.” European Journal of Forest Research 132.5 (2013): 765-776.

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