“Each generation takes the Earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as any forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed." - J. Sterling Morton
"He who plants a tree plants hope." - Lucy Larcom
Tree Topping Hurts
The practice of topping is so widespread that many people believe it is the proper way to prune trees. However, topping can cause a variety of problems in trees and ultimately cause problems for homeowners.
Topping and Pruning: What’s the Difference?
Topping is the excessive and arbitrary removal of all parts of the tree above and beyond a certain height with no regard for the structure or growth pattern of the tree.
Pruning is the selective removal of certain limbs based on the structure and growth pattern of the tree.
Tree Topping Myths
1. The tree is too tall. This indicates either poor species selection, improper tree placement or fear that the tree might be dangerous in storms.
2. Topping reduces the risk of storm damage. The reduction in height reduces risk temporarily, but as the tree regrows, it is structurally weaker, and the risk becomes greater.
3. Topping produces a denser shade. The shade may be denser in a small area, but the overall shading potential is reduced.
4. The tree has to be topped because of power lines. Tree and power line conflicts may be resolved by proper species selection, better placement or different pruning techniques. Remember: power line clearance benefits the lines, not the trees.
Problems Caused by Topping
- The balance between the roots and crown is destroyed.
- Removal of too many branches and leaves can starve trees. Without foliage, trees cannot make enough food to maintain growth and vigor.
- Sunscald can occur. Bark tissues suddenly exposed to full sun may be burned and develop disease cankers.
- Large stubs can’t heal. Stubs are separated from food and water flow. As tissues die, wounds don’t seal, and decay may enter and spread to the trunk.
- New growth is weak. New sprouts are attached to the surface of stubs rather than being anchored from within former limbs.
- Topping can create a hazard. Storms do more damage because the new growth is weakly attached.
- Topping disfigures trees.
The practice of topping is not recommended. Proper pruning that thins the crown with cuts made at branch collars is the best practice for long-term heath of trees.
Tree Board Members
Dr. Charles Baldwin, Retired