Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - June 08, 2015

From: Katy, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning, Trees
Title: Pruning Live Oak trees to limit height.
Answered by: Joe Marcus


I notice many of my neighbors here in Katy (Fort Bend county) would have landscapers cut the lower limbs/branches of the live oak trees in their front yards, and the trees naturally keep getting taller. I have two live oak trees that are currently about 20 feet tall, in my front yard, at least 20 ft away from the house. My house faces southeast. The trees are a few feet shorter than the 2-story house. The house was built in 2006 and I guess that was when the trees were planted there. I want to keep the heights of the trees about as they are now, not any taller. How will the trees react in the long run, if I cut off some small branches at the top and sides to thin their canopies in July every year? Will they likely die off? Will they grow lots of sprouts from their roots? Will the roots still grow spreading out? Thank you in advance!


The ultimate height of individual Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) trees is determined by the genetics of each specific plant and its growing condtions.  Removal of lower branches will not cause a tree to be appreciably taller when it reaches its ultimate height.  However, removing top-growth from your trees will encourge lateral growth.  If you prune to maintain your trees at 20 feet in height, they will very likely expand beyond a desired width over time and will assume an unnatural,  "flattened" appearance.

Root sprouts are a natural phenomenon of Live Oaks and some other treees, but only certain individuals are prone to producing them.  Pruning of limbs has no effect on the production of root sprouts.  However, top-pruning may result in unwanted, weak new growth called water sprouts which may appear near the site of pruning cuts

The better solution is to remove your Live Oak trees and plant trees that will naturally reach and maintain a height and width more in keeping with your desires.


More Pruning Questions

Sprouts at base of holly in Surprise AZ
November 15, 2010 - Friends have recently planted a holly tree in their front yard. They live in AZ and there is no grass (only rock) around their tree. It was planted as a fairly large tree (about 18 feet).My question i...
view the full question and answer

Pruning dogwood in TX
February 02, 2011 - I have a roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii) sapling that I would like to keep at shrub height (~6 ft) rather than let it form a tree. Can I encourage this by cutting the main trunk, and if so, by ...
view the full question and answer

Non-blooming Texas Mountain Laurel
March 30, 2008 - Two questions: 1. My mountain laurel (10 yrs old) has never had blooms. Is this a gender plant issue? 2. I have been seeking a groundcover that grows in shade and will take foot (dog) traffic. ...
view the full question and answer

Pruning non-native oleanders
September 28, 2011 - I have an oleander that has become to "leggy". I read the pruning instructions, but where I want to prune, there are not any leaf nodes. Can I trim below at the base, or will I hurt the plant? I ...
view the full question and answer

Can I trim back my 20 ft Yucca plant?
May 11, 2009 - I have a yucca tree which is about 20 ft. tall, has four main trunks. I would like to prune it to approx. 10 ft. but wonder if that will kill it or if new shoots will come out up near the cut.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.