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Topping - a surefire way to harm your tree

You will not find topping listed among the services provided by Scenic City Arborists. Why?


Topping trees involves removing whole tops or large branches from the tops of trees leaving stubs or lateral branches that are too small to assume the role of a terminal leader. Topping trees is a harmful practice that creates large, exposed wounds that leave trees susceptible to a number of health problems including decay, infestation, sunburn (yes, even trees sunburn!), and nutrient stress. Because topping often involves removing 50-100% of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree, trees will enter a period of starvation immediately following topping. Then, the trees begin a phase of accelerated growth (to produce a new set of leaves) that is unstable and prone to breakage. Think of the whole process like an urgent, survival response from the tree.


More than 25 years of research shows that topping a tree actually makes a tree more costly in the long term because it increases homeowner liability, maintenance costs, and reduces overall property value. If the tree survives topping (not all do), it will require a lifetime of pruning. Tree topping is hazardous and increases risk. Unlike normal branches, the ones that develop after topping are weak and susceptible to damage during weather events such as high wind. Homeowners can be held liable for damages caused by a hazard tree.


In short, topping is not a safe or sustainable practice. Even though the goal in topping may be to reduce a tree’s height to make it safer, it becomes much less stable and much riskier because of topping.


Let’s be real, though. We know that sometimes trees have become too large for your yard or may pose a safety hazard. So, instead of topping, seek a certified arborist who will work with you to explore safe, alternative solutions for pruning trees. Regardless of whether pruning is needed to make the tree safer or more attractive, Scenic City Arborists can work with you to develop a plan that aligns with arborist standards and protects the longevity of your tree.


Topping is also viewed as an unacceptable pruning practice according to the Tree Care Industry (ISA) and the American National Standards Institute A300 standards. A responsible arborist will not top trees. Learn more about topping from the ISA here.

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