Tree Topping: Why It’s Bad for Your Trees and What You Can Do Instead (Homeowner Series)

Homeowner Series

A healthy tree with its crown of leafy branches often makes for a pleasant sight. Sadly, the same can’t be said about topped trees. They often look like someone might have given them an unappealing crew cut. But, visual beauty isn’t the only thing that trees lose out on in such cases. Topping is bad for trees due to several other reasons as well. If you are thinking about topping your trees, you need to know how this decision will impact your trees.

“Before we take a look at why topping is harmful to trees, we need to understand exactly what tree topping means.”  

What Is Tree Topping?

Tree topping refers to the practice of reducing the size of a tree. It is also known as tipping, heading, or rounding over. During topping, the whole canopy of trees may be removed. Sometimes only the large branches from the treetops are removed, leaving behind lateral branches or stubs.  

Usually, those trees are topped which have been damaged in a storm and may pose a safety hazard. Sometimes topping is also done on tall trees whose further growth can interfere with utility lines or power lines. In some cases, house owners prefer topping their trees if they become too large for their properties or pose unacceptable risks.

Whatever be the reason behind topping a tree, it is not a viable solution as far as the tree is concerned.

Why Is Topping Bad for Your Trees?

Topping negatively impacts a tree on multiple fronts. Here are some of the biggest downsides of topping trees:

  • Topping Impacts Food Source

Leaves prepare food for trees using the process of photosynthesis. Topping often results in a tree losing around 50 to 100 percent of its leafy canopy, directly impacting the food production capability of the tree. This means topping can starve a tree and impact its further growth. If the whole leaf-bearing crown of a tree is removed due to topping, it may even starve to death.

  • Topping Increases Risk of Decay

When a tree is pruned correctly using chainsaw chain tools, it can recover and close the wound. But it’s not the same case with topping, no matter what tools are used. The tree may not be able to close the wounds received due to topping. Under such circumstances, the wood tissues start decaying. In normal cases, a tree can simply compartmentalize the decaying tissues. But the multiple severe wounds caused by topping are often too large for a tree to recover from. This provides easy access to insects, pests, and pesky bacteria, such as fire blight, to attack the tree and cause disease and decay.   

  • Topping Elevates Limb Failure Risks

After a tree is topped, its survival mechanism kicks in. This can change the hormonal structure of the tree and lead to the proliferation of growth. As a result, the tree may begin to sprout new branches and leaves quickly. However, unlike the regular branches that grow at their own pace and gain strength in the process, these branches grow quickly to compensate for the loss due to topping. But these branches turn out to be spindly and tend to be weakly attached to the tree trunk. As such, they remain prone to breaking during storms or windy conditions. In other words, the risk of limb failure increases considerably.

What Are the Alternatives to Topping?

Topping can prove to be an irreparable mistake as far as the health and growth of your trees are concerned. But if you are faced with a situation where you need to reduce the height of a tree, you can seek professional help.

A certified arborist will be the best person to guide you in this matter. There are several ways for an arborist to address such issues. For instance, they can suggest branch reduction through proper techniques to reduce the tree’s height while preserving its natural form. Your arborist will also be able to decide which branches can be safely trimmed to keep your tree healthy and safe. They can even provide tips about caring for the trees once they are pruned and how to keep pests and diseases off them.

In Conclusion

There’s no doubt that topping hurts trees. Rather than going for topping, think about how you can address the issue through alternate ways. If nothing else works, you can consider removing the tree and replacing it with a species that may be appropriate for planting at that spot.

Also, when you are planting new trees, select the spots carefully. Ensure that you aren’t planting them under any tall structures that the tree could reach in height when it matures. Further, make sure that you are not planting them too close to any building or construction. Now that you know all about topping, take your decision wisely so that your trees don’t suffer.

This article was written by a guest writer outside of Arborjet.