Tree Topping


Tree topping is a practice which has been going on for decades, to the detriment of the health and beauty of trees everywhere. Today any tree company or arborist who will top your trees is either unwilling to learn about proper tree care, or only interested in seperating the tree’s owner from his/her money, without regard for the tree.

To view photos of trees topped by other companies,  please visit our Hall of Shame.

Many homeowners mistakenly believed (and some still do) that removing all the material above a certain point would make their trees safer. The opposite is actually true. When a tree is topped, its natural reaction is to produce many sprouts, or shoots, so it can restore its canopy of leaves. Leaves are the food factories of trees, trees can’t survive for long without them. When an unscrupulous tree company cuts all the foliage off the tree, it is forced to expend stored energy to grow new leaves, leaving it weaker, damaged, and much more likely to die. ANSI pruning standards state that no more than 25% of a tree’s foliage should be removed per trimming.

New shoot growth is very often poorly attached, and grows very quickly. In most cases, after 5 – 8 years the tree will have regained the height and mass it had prior to topping, The problem is that now the same mass is attached to the tree by a weak surface junction. The tree is far more likely to have partial failures during wind events, and ice or snow storms than it ever was before topping.

Topping also creates areas of decay beginning at the topping cut. As this decay continues down the limb or trunk, it can cause a major failure, resulting in injury and/or damage to property.

In some cases, topping can directly and quickly kill your tree. A tree which is already sick, or stressed, may not survive the additional stress of being forced to regrow its canopy.

Any tree which has been topped will require far more maintenance in the future than any properly trimmed tree. Don’t let yourself become trapped into this cycle of maintenance by someone who wants you to pay them to ruin your trees.

Exception: Bradford Pear trees are genetically pre-disposed to a growth structure which causes them to fail with very high certainty. Harsh crown reductions are sometimes necessary on Bradford Pears, in order to keep them from falling apart from their own weight.

Options instead of topping:

Crown Reduction Pruning will lessen the wind/ice loading on the branches and trunk of the tree, and lower the chances of a failure, with far less severe consequences from smaller pruning cuts than large topping cuts. Pruning can be done incrementally over a few years to lessen the shock to the tree, while still achieving the desired reduction.

Removal and Replanting may be best in cases where the homeowner is simply unwilling to accept the risk associated with having a big tree in close proximity to a valued target. Removal of the tree, and replanting of a species better suited to that spot may be the answer. With good planning the replacement tree or trees can be planted several years before the removal of the original tree, allowing them some time to grow and mature.

Cabling, Bracing, or Guying are options which can help lessen the probablilty of a failure. When possible, cabling or guying can allow the homeowner to live with the benefits and beauty of their tree, and allow them to be confident about its safety.

Topping destroys trees, don’t do it, and certainly don’t pay someone your hard earned cash to make your trees hazardous and ugly.

Can Topped Trees Be Restored?

This is a difficult question. It depends on the species of the tree, and how badly it was improperly trimmed, as well as many other variables specific to each tree and situation.

Crown Restoration Pruning is a trimming process to thin the many sprouts which occur if the tree survives topping, selecting the best to become the skeleton of the crown again, and removing the weak, improperly placed, crossing, duplicating, or damaged sprouts. In order for the tree to begin to regain it’s natural form, usually 2 or 3 trims are needed over 4 to 6 years, with more work needed as the canopy grows.

In every case, restoring a topped tree will be more expensive than caring for a properly trimmed tree.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have previously topped trees on your property, and would like to see if they can be restored, Tree Solutions can help, just contact us to see what can be done to help your trees.

It should be noted that even though some trees can be restored from improper trimming, their lifespan and saftey over that time will both be decreased as a result of topping.