Why Topping Hurts Trees

You might not be aware of this, but ‘topping’ can damage your tree. But don’t panic! In this article, you can find out why topping is not an acceptable pruning technique, whilst also discovering better, alternative methods. At Canopy Tree we always follow best practices and maintain the highest standards of tree removal services in this article we share insights into keeping your trees healthy.

So, if you want to take the very best care of the trees on your property, whilst keeping them trim, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing, then read on…


What is Topping? (Harmful tree pruning techniques)

Topping (AKA heading, tipping, and rounding over), is the process of indiscriminately cutting tree branches down to stubs or lateral branches. The reason for removing said branches is typical because they are not large enough to serve as a dominant branch (a structurally solid foundation upon which other branches can grow).

In many cases, topping is used to reduce the overall size of a tree. For example, a homeowner might feel as though a tree has grown too large for their property. Perhaps they believe that it may pose a health hazard, or that it is simply spoiling the view. Whatever the case, topping isn’t the most viable method for height reduction—if anything, topping can make a tree even more of a hazard than before.


Topping Causes Unnecessary Stress to a Tree

When topping, you can remove too much of a tree’s leaf-bearing crown and that is a problem. You see, leaves are essential ‘food factories’ for a tree. When you remove them, you will be starving a tree temporarily, thus triggering some different survival mechanisms. It essentially goes into ‘fight for your life’ mode!

  • Dormant buds are activated: this forces them to rapidly grow multiple shoots below each cut in a desperate attempt to get some much-needed energy. Of course, if a tree doesn’t have enough energy reserves and is unable to sprout new leaves fast enough, it will become weaker and may even die.
  • Stressed trees with open pruning wounds are vulnerable: this weakened state makes them prone to infestations of insects or disease. With so few resources, the tree will struggle to fend off any foreign invaders and may perish altogether.


Topping Leads to Decay

Decay is not something that you want present on your tree; not if you want it to thrive. With correct pruning cuts, made just beyond the branch collar, the tree will be better equipped to close the wound. However, cuts that are made along a limb will create wounds that the tree may well not be able to deal with. This exposed ‘tissue’ will inevitably decay, which can lead to all manner of different issues. One or two might not be the end of the world, but when topping, you will likely be creating more wounds than the tree will be able to handle.  You’ve got to go easy on it!


Topping Can Lead to Scorching from the Sun

The crown of a tree doesn’t just feed it with much-needed sunlight, but it also protects the inner layers of the tree from excessive heat. The leaves absorb the sunlight and feed the tree, but when removed in an excessive amount, leaves the tree completely exposed. Sunburned tissue on a tree leads to splitting bark, cankers, and can ultimately be the death of many branches.


Topping a Tree Can Make It More Dangerous

When a tree goes into survival mode after excessive topping, it puts the tree at significant risk. All of these ailments forces the tree to develop buds rapidly, but with weak and unreliable attachments. These ‘rushed’ limbs are far more prone to breaking, particularly in windy or freezing weather conditions. So, if your initial goal of topping was to reduce the overall risk that the tree posed, in doing so, you will make it even more of a threat.


Topping Ruins a Tree’s Aesthetic Appeal

That’s a polite way of saying that topping is an ugly method, both in appearance and in practice. It damages the tree and in doing so, damages its appearance as well.

The natural branching structure of a tree is magnificent. However, when you interfere with that process to excess, you destroy the natural form of the tree.

And of course, when you put a tree under unnecessary stress, it can force it into sprouting unnatural limbs with disfigurements and mutilations. The saddest part about it all is that most trees that have been topped never fully regain their natural form.


Topping Isn’t Exactly Cheap Either!

So, not only is topping a rather damaging and ineffective pruning method, but it can cost you more money in the long run:

  • If the tree survives then you will have to pay for corrective pruning.
  • If the tree dies you will need to pay for removal (and stump grinding)
  • A topped tree can negatively impact the value of your property (healthy and well-maintained trees can often add 10 to 20% to the overall value of a property (nobody wants to wake up to disfigured trees every morning—that, and they are considered to be a ‘pending expense’)
  • Liability potential and greater risk (topping is considered an unacceptable pruning practice and thus, should anybody sustain injury by branch failure from a topped tree, you will have some serious legal issues on your hands)


What Are Some Other Great Alternatives to Topping?

It’s not all doom and gloom! There are some great alternatives to topping a tree—which is good news, as sometimes a tree must be reduced in height (e.g., to clear away from a utility line).

  • Small branches should ideally be removed back to their point of origin
  • If larger limbs must be shortened, then they should be pruned to a lateral branch that is large enough to assume the ‘dominant’, terminal role (helping to preserve the natural shape of the tree)
  • In some cases, it may even be better to have the tree removed and replaced entirely, with a more suitable species that will not exceed a certain height


To Top It All Off

And that about sums it up! We highly recommend that you avoid ‘topping’ as a tree pruning method where possible. You should also avoid any would-be arborists who try to sell topping to you as a solution, too hard.

Any reputable arborist with a passion for their job will always put the tree’s health and safety at the top (though not before the safety of yours of course).

All in all, there are better ways of doing it. Methods that can save you money, solve your height issue, and ultimately be better for the tree itself.

If you find yourself feeling a little lost or unsure what to do next, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our friendly representatives will gladly set your mind at ease and prescribe the best possible remedy for your situation.

why topping hurts trees