Topping is Hazardous to Your Tree
Tree topping is an all too common practice among homeowners, particularly
when their trees become too tall and pose a possible threat to the house
or overhead power lines. Some have the trees topped because they believe,
or are led to believe, that topping is a good pruning practice.
Obviously, some situations require the removal of large limbs for the
sake of safety. But topping is a drastic step and ultimately endangers
the tree's life. Removing such a great quantity of growth in one shot
throws off the balance of roots to shoots that the tree has gradually
developed all those years. The much-reduced leaf surface will not be able
to manufacture sufficient food reserves to feed the large root system.
As roots starve, the rest of the tree will suffer from insufficient moisture
Another drawback to topping for many tree species is the stimulation
of numerous, upright branches that grow straight up. These shoots are
typically very soft, weak growth that breaks easily and is more susceptible
to attack by diseases and insects. These shoots are rapid growers, so
the tree will soon be back to its original height. And, the stubs left
by the topping are usually too large for the tree's defense process of
callusing to heal over. Thus, the stubs also become easy prey for insects,
diseases and decay. Even those tree species that do not produce such re-growth
will be drastically disfigured by topping.
There are alternatives to topping when size reduction is required. Thinning
out the canopy by removing selected branches completely back to their
point of origin will reduce the tree's size while maintaining more of
its natural shape. The cuts will be less conspicuous and should heal more
rapidly. Thinning is a much more time-consuming process and requires a
more skilled hand, which usually translates to more expensive.
If the tree isn't worth the money to do the job right, it's probably
better to remove the tree entirely rather than top repeatedly. In the
case of overhead power lines, it really is best to remove the tree and
replant with a more appropriate sized plant. But if the tree is worth
saving, make the investment in a healthy future.