Tree topping is one of the most harmful tree pruning practices know. Yet, it continues everyday…You will come home from work and see a tree cut in a blunt line straight across—like a limb amputation—it’s unattractive, expensive, harmful to your trees health, and in the long run doesn’t even solve the problem of keeping your tree size under control.

Three reasons topping trees is a bad idea:

  1. topping nick kuhnTree topping leads to more expense. Topping removes the leaf-bearing crown of a tree triggering a survival mechanism in most trees forcing the rapid growth a new crop of leaves that have to be pruned more often. A topped tree will sprout back higher and bushier than the original size. Certain species such as Montery Pine and certain other conifers will not re-sprout and ultimately could die. For those that do re-sprout, the branches that shoot out are weak, and prone to fail more quickly.
  2. A topped tree is more susceptible to disease and more hazardous.  When a tree is topped, its top is exposed and it may rot. As the rot spreads, branches loosen and the tree becomes a hazard. In general, topping stresses the tree which weakens its immune system and branches.
  3. topped treeTopping leads to unnatural and unattractive, weak forms. Without leaves, a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. With leaves, it grows back as a dense ball of foliage, lacking its graceful natural branching structure.

So what can you do if you want to save your trees, your dollars and your views?

Alternatives to topping:

  1. Canopy reduction.  This is the removal of small select limbs at their attachment point. Depending on the species of tree and its health, no more than 25% of the tree’s foliage should be removed.
  2. rp_urban_well_pruned_mapleSkirting or limbing up:  This is best used when you want open up a view by removing the lower limbs of a tree. Branches are cut from the ground up to the desired level. These lower level branches contribute less energy to the trees’ growth so the tree can survive removal of these branches. It’s best to use a certified arborist so that you keep an aesthetically pleasing shape.
  3. Interlimbing or thinning: This method is best used when you like the idea of seeing your view through a tracery of green. Remove selected branches up the length of the trunk to allow partial views  through the tree. Interlimbing will also allow more light into your yard, if trees are blocking your sunlight.
  4. rsz_windowing (2)Windowing:  In this technique you remove multiple branches from a specific area around or on one side of the trunk until you have a clear view through with the remaining branches framing your view. Windowing can be done in more than one place on the tree allowing for the creation of optimal tree-view balance for your particular situation.

It’s not necessary that you completely understand the details of alternatives, but that you can communicate to your arborist that you don’t want your tree topped and you know other options exist. In fact, tree pruning can be complicated and for large-tree pruning projects its best to contact a certified arborist.

Now that you know the facts, be sure to steer away from anyone who suggests topping as an option.