Just say NO to topping

Topped Tree
Topped tree (FOT file)

By Kris Day

Topping is the absolute worst action you can take under the guise of “caring” for a tree. What exactly is “topping?” In a nutshell, it is a type of pruning that reduces a tree’s size by indiscriminately stub cutting the major branches of a tree. A tree typically ends up looking like a hat rack or candelabra at best. Other names for this misguided practice are: stubbing, heading, tipping, or rounding off.

Pruning trees in this way causes, rather than prevents, hazards–one of the main reasons people claim to do or have this work done. When a tree’s crown is cut back in this way, it responds by sending out a flush of growth from the remaining large diameter wood to replace the leaf area lost. This growth is very weakly attached and will become vulnerable to breakage in a short time.

Additionally, topping weakens trees by creating large wounds for them to seal over.  It takes a lot of energy and time to close over cuts of this nature, and most often trees develop decay before the process is complete. So, not only do you invite the risk of new limbs breaking off in storms (or even just under their own weight), you also run the risk of having one of the structural branches falling due to rot.

While topping is dangerous, unhealthy, and unsightly, the bottom line is that it just doesn’t work. If you have a tree whose size or health are of concern to you, do yourself (and the tree) a favor and seek the advice of a certified arborist. A healthy tree can outlive many generations of people, but only if it is provided adequate resources and not mistreated.  Don’t top or advocate for topping trees. And please… Spread the word.

–Day is Neighborhood Trees Contractor Specialist & Green Space Initiative Outreach Specialist for Friends of Trees. She is an ISA certified arborist.