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Serving the greater Triad area, NC

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tree topping

Tree Topping: Why You Shouldn’t Do It

Tree topping. We have so many reasons why we don’t perform this damaging assault on trees it’s hard to know where to start, but unfortunately, this form of “pruning” is still commonly in use in the Triad area and so we’re often asked to do it.

Below is a summary of just some of the reasons why we don’t top trees.

What is Tree Topping?

In general terms, tree topping is removing the tops of trees. It can also be called rounding-over, heading, stubbing, tipping, lopping, and dehorning.

Tree topping is a drastic pruning method that promises a lot of things but delivers quite the opposite. In the most extreme circumstances (which we’ve also noticed still happens quite frequently), trees are topped down to nothing more than stubs.

Why do people top their trees?

Despite all of the articles, literature, and notices out there about the disastrous effects of tree topping, you can still see it done widely. Tree topping is usually done in public spaces by city employees who have not been trained on proper pruning techniques, as well as on private property by “guys with a chainsaw” who are more interested in making a sale than ensuring your trees continue to be healthy and safe.

Myths About Tree Topping

Myth #1

Tree topping will keep your tree shorter so that it won’t run into power lines, buildings, block your view, etc.

In fact:

Tree topping is the worst thing you can do in an attempt to keep a tree small. When you top a tree, new small branches, called water sprouts, will shoot up not long afterward. These water sprouts grow back 4 to 10 times faster than normal branches and shoot straight upward. When you try to prune these water sprouts by cutting them off, they multiply each time.

This means that if you top a tree, you have to constantly prune it again and again. This is one of the reasons that tree topping is a popular sales technique, as you’ll have to continue hiring the same people over and over.

With proper pruning techniques, branches are instead directed away from wires or other dangerous areas, and don’t need to be pruned so aggressively. It also maintains the tree structure.

Myth #2

You can prune your trees at a steal! Tree topping is the most inexpensive option, so you’ll be saving a ton of money.

In fact:

Topping your trees will cost you more money (and frustration). As we mentioned earlier, topped trees need to be pruned constantly to keep up with the water sprout growth. The stressed trees are more prone to pests and pest treatments can be costly. The decline of the tree may lead to its premature death, and tree removal and replacement is costly. Planning to put your house on the market in the next few years? Topped trees reduce home values and lessen curb appeal, especially ones that are clearly dying. In some instances, people have been fined for topping their trees, usually in areas where tree topping is illegal, such as Vancouver and San Francisco.

Myth #3

Topping gets rid of excess foliage, so the tree has more energy to focus on other parts of the tree.

In fact:

Leaves are how a tree gets nutrients and are needed to produce energy. The leaves gather water and sunlight and convert it into food for the tree. If a tree loses most or all of its leaves, it has to use stored energy, making it more vulnerable to pests and diseases. The quick spurt of growth following tree topping may seem like health is returning, but this can be deceptive. More on that below.

Myth #4

New growth will appear almost immediately, rejuvenating the tree and making it stronger.

In fact:

The regrowth after topping is faster, but these are emergency growths that the tree sends up in desperation. The tree is under extreme stress and the water sprouts (as these new growths are called) are weak, grow directly upwards, are ugly, and are weakly attached to the branch, meaning that they’ll probably break off as they grow. The cut branch will often rot where the water sprouts appear (because of the non-selective pruning cut), so it’s incredibly likely that you will have branches falling all the time for seemingly no reason. That’s dangerous, expensive, and looks awful.

Myth #5

Everyone else on your block is topping trees. You should too.

In fact:

We really, really hope that’s not the case, but even if it is, your neighbors will soon have dead, dying, or diseased trees that look awful, attract bugs and pests, and constantly need to be pruned. Tree topping is actually the second most common cause of tree decline and death (the first is planting a tree too deeply in the ground).

Using a trained tree care professional is one of the best investments you can make. These individuals are properly trained in pruning techniques that can save your tree, prevent storm damage, keep the branches away from power lines, maintain the structure, and keep it strong and healthy. There are also proper pruning methods to thin a tree to reduce shade or to reduce its height without ruining the structure and health of the tree.

Don’t Top Your Trees

To quote an article from the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension:

“Topping is a bad thing in Charlotte and a bad thing in Lincolnton. It’s a bad thing in Denver, and from Vale to New Zealand. In other words… it’s just bad. The International Society of Arboriculture, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, NC State University, Clemson, Virginia Tech, University of Minnesota, Penn State University, Purdue, University of Illinois, Washington State University, Montana State University, University of Arizona, my uncle’s youngest nephew, and all agricultural schools I have checked, are very clear in stating that tree ‘topping’ is highly unprofessional and damaging. Yet somehow, people are still paying good money to have this ‘service’ performed.”

Tree topping is still in practice because people are not properly informed, so please feel free to share this information. Trees have so many benefits, and the health of trees in a neighborhood, town, city, or state affects everyone nearby.

Please contact us if you have any questions about pruning or if you want to schedule a consultation to learn more about your professional pruning options. We’re happy to help you keep your trees healthy, well maintained, and beautiful.