Tree topping: Why you shouldn’t top your trees

— Written By and last updated by Kathy Lee

During the winter when we can see the limbs of our trees, we begin to start thinking about trimming our trees back. Maybe you’re worried about limbs or the entire tree falling on your house during an ice storm, blocking your mountain view, or just creating too much shade in the yard. There are right and wrong ways to go about correcting the problem. Often people want to “top” their trees. This is where tress are trimmed back to a few large diameter, older structural limbs.

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While done with good intentions, there are several problems with this method:

  1. Production of weak wood: The regrowth that occurs will be numerous fast growing branches that have weak unions with the main limb, later when these branches get heavier they will be prone to easily breaking off.

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  1. Nutrition: Trees need their leaves to manufacture carbohydrates for transport to the trees root system for growth and water transport. Generally you never want to remove more than 1/3 of the leafy part of the tree.
  1. Insect and disease issues: large wounds often to not completely heal, leaving the wound open for insect and disease invasion.
  1. Aesthetic value: A topped tree loses the shape and look that is unique to each tree species.

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  1. Fast new growth: Tree will grow quickly to try to get back to its original height producing tall spindly growth.

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

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  • Sometimes it’s impossible to effectively reduce the size of a tree and it is just time to remove it and start over.
  • Remember when selecting trees for a location; pick the right plant for the right place.
  • Prune tree beginning at a young age for good structure