Why is Tree Topping Harmful?

What is topping on a tree?…

Also known as “heading,” “tipping,” “hat-racking,” and “rounding over,” topping is often used to reduce the size of a tree by indiscriminately cutting back its branches to stubs.

Why perform topping on a tree?…

As property owners and caretakers in and around Contra Costa County feel a tree has become large enough to pose hazard or risk to their property, some, for lack of knowledge of better alternatives, feel topping as a good solution.

Why is topping not a good solution?…

Topping is not a viable solution for many reasons. For one, topping does not reduce future risk, as it actually increases risk in the long term. The practice stresses trees to produce new shoots very rapidly, as much as 20 feet in one year, as a matter of survival, since leaves are a tree’s primary food source. This leaves such trees more prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions. The irony is that while the goal was to reduce the tree’s height to make it safer, it has been made more hazardous than before by seriously weakening trees, causing decay, and death.
Furthermore, stressed trees lack sufficient energy to chemically defend against invasion and are therefore more vulnerable to being overtaken by insects and diseases, while large, open pruning wounds expose the sapwood and heartwood to attack.

Topping Makes Trees Ugly

The natural branching structure of a tree is a biological wonder. Trees form a variety of shapes and growth habits, all with the same goal of presenting their leaves to the sun. Topping removes the ends of the branches, often leaving ugly stubs. Topping destroys the natural form of a tree. Without leaves (for up to six months of the year in temperate climates), a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. With leaves, it is a dense ball of foliage, lacking its simple grace. A tree that has been topped can never fully regain its natural form.
Moreover, branches within a tree’s crown produce thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight. When the leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are suddenly exposed to high levels of light and heat. The result may be sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark, which can lead to cankers, bark splitting, and death of some branches.

Topping is Expensive

The cost of topping a tree is not limited to the cost. If the tree survives, it will require pruning again within a few years. It will either need to be reduced again, or storm damage will have to be cleaned up. If the tree dies it will have to be removed. Topping is a high maintenance pruning practice.
There are also some hidden costs of topping. One is the reduction in property value. Healthy, well maintained trees can add 10-20% to the value of a property. Disfigured, topped trees are considered an impending expense.
Another potential cost of topped trees is the potential liability. Topped trees are prone to breaking and can be hazardous. Since topping is considered to be an unacceptable pruning practice, any damage caused by branch failure of a topped tree may lead to a finding of negligence in a court of law.

Alternatives to tree topping

So what should you do if you have a tree that is too large for an area or endangering a structure?
>Make thinning cuts rather than topping the tree

>Sometimes it’s impossible to effectively reduce the size of a tree and it is just time to remove it and start over with a species that is more appropriate for the property.
>Remember when selecting trees for a location to pick the right plant for the right place.
>Prune tree beginning at a young age for good structure
For more information on topping and better alternatives… contact us at Better City Tree Services (click here); we would be happy to provide information and solutions to overgrown trees on your property.


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