I notice it everywhere and if you pay attention, you will too. What was once a beautiful tree has been turned into something that resembles a coat rack. These trees have been permanently disfigured and damaged. This is called topping and has no place in correct tree maintenance. Here are the reasons why not.

Spruce Tree

1. A pruned tree should still look like a tree!!

2. Large pruning cuts won’t heal and are prone to diseases that cause decay.

3. The leaves feed the roots. When large sections of leaves are removed the root system suffers. Then the top suffers. Then the roots…in a catch 22 cycle until the tree fails.

4. Topping causes many buds to sprout around the pruning cut. There are too many sprouts and they are poorly attached. As they get larger they will eventually break off.

5. These sprouts grow rapidly trying to replace the leaf tissue that was removed. Within a short period of time the sprouts will be very tall and lush. This is mistakenly thought to be a good thing. This fast, succulent growth is like a dessert bar for insects. Aphids, in particular, love this tender new growth. If you didn’t have insect problems before, you probably will now.

6. The crown of the tree is like an umbrella. Topping removes that protection exposing tender bark to direct sun. Sunscald is the result, causing injury that makes the tree more susceptible to disease and insects.

7. Surrounding plants might suffer because their environment has been altered. Plants that grew in the shade provided by the tree canopy will scorch without that protection.

8. Loss of a healthy tree will reduce property values.

With proper pruning it is possible, if necessary, to reduce the size of an older tree and still retain it’s natural form and beauty. It will cost you more to have this work done because it requires skill and understanding of how the tree will react and should be done by a Certified Arborist. Topping may cost less, initially, but there are hidden costs that include the certain expense of future maintenance and liability because of weakly attached and diseased branches, and removal and replacement when the tree eventually dies. By the way, an ethical Arborist won’t top a tree, knowing the long term consequences of such an action.

If you hire someone to prune your trees, get several bids, ask for proof of insurance, references and a written bid. Go see some of their work and see what you think. Do they still look like trees?

If your trees are small enough that you plan to prune them yourself, look for local pruning classes and invest in a good pruning book that includes pictures and drawings to learn what you’re doing. Trees are a big investment in time and money. Correct pruning will make all the difference in the health and lifespan of your tree.


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