Why You Shouldn't Top Your Tree
Tree topping is one of the most damaging practices that can be undertaken under the guise of tree care. It is still common for people to ask us to top a tree. We do not recommend it and we will not perform this kind of service. We will rather walk away from the job then top a tree.
Tree topping will create a very ugly tree. Trees that are allowed to grow into a natural form are inherently very beautiful—trees that are topped look nothing like the way they were intended to. Topped trees never fully regain their natural form. A topped tree also suffers from a shortened life span.
Tree topping is the indiscriminate cutting back of a tree to a point at which there are no lateral branches to assume the role of branch leader. The result is a distressed tree. Sometimes all the leaf material is removed from the tree which results in the tree starving for energy/food. After topping, the tree initiates survival mechanisms which results in the production of many shoots from dormant buds. The tree needs leaves to produce food so it must start to produce food for itself or it will die. If the tree is already weak and then it is topped, it might not have the stored energy reserves to produce this extra growth and it may die. If it does survive, the branches that result from these dormant buds are not strongly attached to the tree and are prone to breakage.
Topping of some trees—especially fruit trees—can result in sun burned bark. This is commonly a problem on smooth barked trees. Vertical splits in the bark and or dead sunken areas in the bark on the west and south side of the tree are visual symptoms of this. Eventually the tree will exhibit branch die back on that side of the crown. These damaged sites are susceptible to fire blight and other diseases.
The reason topping is so bad is that when you make normal pruning cuts you are making the cut at a very specific location just beyond the branch collar. When cuts are made here the tree will more quickly be able to seal the wound. When a topping cut is made it is at a point where the tree responds very slowly to producing the wound wood necessary to seal over the cut. As a result, topped trees usually have a significant decay problem.
One of the most common reasons for requesting tree topping that we hear is the tree owner wants to control the size of the tree and make it less hazardous. In fact, a topped tree will eventually become more hazardous than if it had been left alone. A topped tree will also cost more in the long run as it will need frequent pruning and branch removals to remove hazardous branches. A topped tree is also a liability and will reduce the property values because of its hazard and unsightliness.
For more information on any of our services or if you would like to schedule an appointment to have your trees pruned please contact us