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If you call a tree service company and they suggest “topping” your tree, please get a second opinion.  I work in the tree care industry because I love trees, I hate to see them slowly killed by this dangerous practice.


What is “tree topping” and why is it bad?

Stop Tennessee Tree ToppingAccording to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), “topping is the indiscriminate cutting back of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role. Other names for topping include ‘heading,’ ‘tipping,’ ‘hat-racking,’ and ’rounding over’ and “crown reduction”. Topping violates nationally accepted standards for proper pruning and can seriously injures trees.  Tree topping in not endorsed by the TCIA (Tree Care Industry of America) or the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture.


Problems caused by tree topping:

1.) Starvation – Good pruning practices rarely remove more than 1/3 of the crown, which does not seriously interfere with the ability of a tree’s leafy crown to manufacture food. Topping removes so much of the crown that it upsets an older tree’s well-developed crown to root ratio and temporarily cuts off its food-making ability. The tree goes into shock and rapidly produces new shoots.

2.) Weak New Growth – The branches that sprout following topping are much more weakly attached than a naturally developed branch. Rot at the severed end of the limb can make a bad situation even worse.

3.) Rapid New Growth – The goal of topping is usually to control the height and spread of a tree. However, it usually has exactly the opposite effect! After topping, trees vigorously re-sprout. The resulting sprouts are far more numerous than the normal new growth and they elongate so rapidly that the tree returns to its original height in a very short time.

4.) Insects and Disease – The large stubs of a topped tree have a difficult time sealing. Thus the stubs are highly vulnerable to insect invasion and decay.


Why do tree service companies top trees if it is so bad?

People top trees because it requires relatively little skill and time. All they need is a truck and chainsaw. It works out best for companies to top trees because it is quick and easy; since the growth will be back in 2-3 years, they have created more work for themselves in the future. If a company suggests topping, always get a second opinion. A good arborist will almost NEVER suggest topping.

Many homeowners have their trees topped when the trees reach heights they consider unsafe. They are afraid a strong wind will blow the trees down or break the limbs. What they fail to realize is that they are actually creating the very problems they are trying to avoid; if the tree survives, many weakly attached branches will just sprout back next year, usually higher and bushier than the original limbs. Thus, topping creates a more, not less, hazardous tree.

Topping is one of the worst thing you can do for the health of a tree. It literally starves the tree by drastically reducing its food-making ability and it makes the tree more susceptible to insects and disease. A properly pruned tree will not need pruning as often and will be much healthier.

Topping is the most harmful tree practice known. However, despite more than 20 years of research and university studies documenting and explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice. The only way we can stop topping is through education and outreach to property owners and tree care companies.