Removing a Dead Limb from an Oak Tree

large oak tree
  • 1-3 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 20-100

Removing dead limbs from an oak tree, or any deciduous tree, can prolong its life and improve the safety of your family, garden, and house. If you detach the limb before a storm, you can prevent damage to electrical wires and potential loss of electricity to your neighborhood. You may be assessed for some of the costs of municipal clean-up if it is determined that the limb was dead well in advance of the storm.

Follow the guide below to remove dead limbs safely and prevent further damage to your oak. Remove limbs in the winter when the tree is dormant, or in midsummer after new growth has finished.

Step 1 - Prepare the Area

Remove all loose debris, outdoor furniture, people and pets from the area under the limb to prevent damage and injury. Locate a safe flat spot to place your stepladder. Examine the dead limb and the surrounding tree carefully before starting to cut. Check for other dead limbs or any signs that the whole tree is unhealthy. If you find problems with the tree as a whole, postpone removal until you can have an arborist look over the tree.

Step 2 - Find Where The Limb Meets the Tree

road lined with trees and flowers

If the dead limb is large or more than five feet up, hire an arborist to detach it. If you can reach it using a step ladder height, do it yourself with a freshly sharpened pruning saw. Use a curved saw for narrow branches, and a straight saw for those more than two inches in diameter. Locate the branch collar which is made of trunk tissue; leave this intact, and cut the branch beyond it.

Step 3 - Lighten the Limb Before Detaching

Take the limb off in sections, so its weight will not rip the bark of the trunk or supporting branch. The first cut goes up from under the limb, at least 18 inches from the branch collar. Cut upward till the saw binds, gripping the lignin. Come downward from the top above or outward from the first. Cut until you meet the first slice and let the limb drop to the ground. If the dead limb is more than three feet long, cut away 18-inch segments, using the process described, until you are one segment away from the live tree.

Step 4 - Remove the Remainder of the Limb

looking up into sprawling branches of an oak tree

Make the final cut down from the top at a 45 to 60-degree angle to prevent water from penetrating the branch collar. Inspect the limb and the live branch for disease or insect infestation. Ask an arborist to help determine if the disease or insects have penetrated the live tree.

Step 5 - Clean Up the Area

If the dead limb had disease or infestation, clean your saw blade with household bleach, rubbing alcohol or 3% hydrogen peroxide before using again. Sweep away and bag all the sawdust, twigs, and any loose foliage that you dislodged while removing the limb. Place the dead limb parts in trash bags for disposal. Dead tree limbs are unsafe for compost or for burning in a fireplace or bonfire.