Topping refers to the drastic removal or cutting back of large branches in trees that are fully mature. The top of the tree is hedged like a bush would be, and the main branches are cut to stubs. It is also sometimes called heading, stubbing or dehorning. Even though many people believe that topping is the right thing to do, this is a misguided practice that can have severe consequences for the tree.

Why are Trees Topped in the First Place?

Trees are topped when they reach certain heights and are believed to be unsafe by homeowners. They worry that a strong storm may blow down the tree, causing damage to their property. Unfortunately, this notion is just not true. And, it’s not just homeowners that choose to have their trees topped. Across the planet, trees are topped because of:

  • Aesthetics

  • Safety

  • Reduced shading

  • Stimulate new growth

  • To increase light penetration

Why Topping Trees Should be Stopped

Even with all the “reasons” for topping trees, the practice is not necessary, and can in fact cause many more problems. Most of the reasons for topping trees are purely misconceptions, and it’s important to educate the public on why this practice should be stopped.

Here’s why.

  • Starvation. During photosynthesis, trees manufacture starches from their leaves. When the leaves are taken, however, the tree is unable to provide the roots with necessary starches. Without this process, the roots cannot grow and transport nutrients and water. This means that the tree starves.

  • Shock. The crown of the tree acts like an umbrella, and it shades the bark from direct sunlight. When the protective layer is suddenly removed, the bark can become scalded, and neighboring trees may be affected as well. This can result in poor health or death.

  • Ugly. A topped tree is not aesthetically pleasing. It’s a disfigured tree, and it will never regain the grace and beauty that it once had. If you want to retain the value of your home and allow your trees to be a valuable asset, topping them is not the answer.

  • Weakened Limbs. New limbs that sprout attach themselves to the stronger branches. If the parent branches are cut, new limbs won’t have any strong branches to attach to, resulting in weak limbs.

  • Growth. Even though people think that topping trees stops the growth, the opposite actually happens. When trees are cut, they respond rapidly by producing many long sprouts. This means that the tree gets taller and bushier.

  • Tree Death. Some types of trees do not tolerate tree topping very well. For example, beech trees sprout very little after topping, and the lack of foliage means that the tree cannot capture sunlight. The tree will likely die.

  • Dangerous. Ironically, many people top trees for safety reasons, but the opposite is true. Topping a tree can lead to internal columns of rotten wood, and this will weaken the tree. Additionally, we know that tree topping leads to weakened limbs, starvation, rotting and decreased wind resistance, all factors that make the tree vulnerable when it wouldn’t otherwise be.

What are the Alternatives to Tree Topping?

There are alternatives to topping trees, so don’t ever think that topping is the only answer. Pruning trees is best because it keeps the tree in healthy condition, maintains the size of the tree and is visually appealing. Trees should be pruned as needed. Also consider what types of trees you are planting and what they will look like when they mature. That way, trees that would eventually be touching utility lines can be avoided. Finally, contact a Certified Arborist who can assist you in the best practices for caring for your trees.  Click here for more information on topping.