Six reasons why you should never top a tree

Six reasons why you should never top a tree

For years, arborists have argued against the practice of topping trees. But despite their best efforts, this harmful tree pruning exercise can still be seen. If you’re not sure what all the fuss is about, this article will explain why tree topping is unacceptable.


What is ‘tree topping’?

While pruning is an essential element of tree maintenance, tree topping takes it to the extreme. Branches are cut back into stubs or to lateral branches which aren’t strong enough to take the weight.


It may be tempting to top a tree that has grown too tall, but it’s not really a solution to the problem. In fact, tree topping may increase future risks.


This is why tree topping is never a good idea:


  1. Topping increases tree stress

Whenever you remove branches from a tree, you also remove leaves. Leaves are what provide a tree with the nutrients it needs to survive. While this is one way to control the growth of a tree, if you remove too much of the leaf-bearing crown, you trigger a tree’s survival mechanisms.


That’s why you’ll notice multiple shoots appearing on a tree that has been topped. It’s the trees way of increasing its food production to avoid starvation. The rampant pruning also leaves the tree with large ‘wounds’ that make it more vulnerable to insects and disease.


  1. Topping increases the risk of decay

You must use the right technique when pruning trees. Cutting just beyond the branch collar, at the point of attachment makes it easy for healthy trees to close the wound. But when trees are topped, the wound is often too large to heal correctly. As a result, the exposed wood tissues are subject to decay and this may spread through the remaining branches.


  1. Topping may lead to sunburn

As much as you enjoy the shade created by your trees, the leafy tree crown also helps to protect the trunk and branches from heat and light. Remove this protection and your tree is at risk of sunburn. The tissues beneath the bark may be affected and cankers, bark splitting and the death of some branches may result.


  1. Topping leads to weakly attached branches

As mentioned in the first point, trees that have been topped tend to produce large numbers of shoots in an effort to make up for the loss of food-producing leaves. Unfortunately, these shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches. That means they’re only anchored in the outermost layers of the parent branches and weakly attached.


They tend to grow quickly and are prone to breaking off in windy and icy conditions. If you top a tree with the intention of reducing the risk of branches breaking off and damaging property, you’ll soon find that your efforts have the opposite effect.


  1. Topping makes trees unattractive

The way a tree grows doesn’t happen by accident. Trees grow with intention; maximising their food production is the main goal. Topping removes all of this beauty and leaves the tree bare, vulnerable and unsightly. A tree that has been topped may never fully recover. Even if it produces new shoots and leaves, it remains a ball of foliage, instead of the spreading glory it should be.


  1. Topping is costly

In the long run, topping a tree can be even more expensive than simply paying a professional to prune your trees the right way. Some of the hidden costs of topping may include:

  • Additional maintenance: Should the tree survive, it will need corrective pruning as it starts to grow. If the tree dies, you’ll have to pay to have it removed.
  • Reduced property value: A well-maintained, mature tree can account for 10 -20% of the value of your property. An unsightly, stubby tree will bring down the value of your property.
  • Increased insurance costs: As topping trees actually increase the risk of limb failure, you may need to increase your insurance cover.


Now that you know exactly what ‘topping’ is and why it’s detrimental to trees, you’ll know never to listen to any tree feller that recommends it. Professional tree fellers work with an arborist with the goal of maintaining and preserving trees. Removing a tree may be your last resort, but there will never be a good reason to ‘top’ a tree.