The Epic Fail of Tree-Topping

Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite that its harmful effects have been known for many years, topping remains a common practice in San Francisco and elsewhere.People top trees for many reasons, all of them connected to falsehoods and misconceptions.

Myth:Topping a tree reduces storm damage and making the tree easier to maintain.
Truth: Topped trees can regain their original height in as fast as 2 years. The fast growing, extremely long and loosely attached shoots caused by topping may be more susceptible to breakage and storm damage. A topped tree requires more attention than a properly pruned tree.

Myth:Topping invigorates a tree.
Truth: Topping immediately injures a tree. Topping wounds expose a tree to decay and invasion from insects and disease. Also, the loss of foliage starves the tree, weakening the roots and reducing the tree's structural strength. While a tree may survive topping, its life span will be significantly reduced.

Myth:Topped trees will add value to your property.
Truth: Topped trees lack natural beauty and may reduce your property values. Also, a topped tree can become hazardous and cause property damage, making it a liability.

As more is learned about the long-term effects of tree topping, the more senseless this practice becomes. Topping is the absolute worst thing you can do for the health of your tree.

What is Tree-Topping?

Tree-toppingisthe a practice ofexcessivelyandarbitrarilyremovingofallpartsofthetreeaboveandbeyondacertainheightwithout any concern for the tree’s structure or growth patternTheverticalstemormainleaderandtheupperprimarylimbsontreesarecutbacktounsightly  stubsat auniformheight.Pruning, also known as tree thinning, istheselectiveremovalofcertainlimbsbasedonthestructure, thecrownformand growth of thetree. The process is the same for artistic pruning.

Problems caused by tree-topping

The balance between the roots and crown is altered. 
Removal of too many branches and leaves reduces the food-making potential of the tree (photosynthesis) and depletes the tree’s stored reserves needed for maintenance and growth. An arbitrary and excessive removal of crown will cause similar root reduction because there is not enough leaf area or food-making capacity to sustain the amount of roots present and a proliferation of sprout growth at the wounded or cut area in an attempt to gain more leaf area to balance the amount of roots.

Both results are undesirable for the long-term health and maintenance of the tree. Root death occurs because less food is being made in the leaves area and stored in the roots. An entire tree with fewer anchoring roots is more likely to blow over during a storm.Root weakening and decay result from the loss of food resources once produced in the part of the crown that was removed. Disease and insect attack follows resprouting, sunscald and food production loss as a tree’s physiological system is altered and disease resistance lowered. 

New sprout growth is weak. 
The new water sprout shoots, resulting from tree topping, are attached to the surface of the stubs, rather than anchored from within the former limbs.The resprouting process is quick. Topped trees regain their original height within 2 to 4 years. Many trees wind up taller than if they had not been topped.The accompanying resprouts are weak. A topped tree’s new limbs, because of their rapid growth rate and lack of strong attachment to the tree, will break easier as the resprouts are weakly attached. As the branch gains weight the weak attachment becomes more vulnerable to breaking. Topped trees often have breakage at the new limbs. Resprouting is very dense, especially in the first years after topping, making the tree less resistant to wind that it had been normally. 

Topping can create a hazard. 
New shoots from the branch stubs are inherently weak and highly susceptible to breakage from wind and ice storms or weight from excessive growth. Liability concerns increase for both property owner and the company that topped the tree as bodily harm or damage property can be the result of tree topping. Loss of side limbs drastically reduces the “cushion” that normal trees have when they fall, dramatically increasing the chance of property damage. Dieback from entire limbs dying creates a hazardous storm situation. 

Large stubs will not heal. 
Trees compartmentalize wounds, some species more poorly than others. Large branch wounds (those greater than 2 inches in diameter) areslowtoheal,iftheyhealatall. This slow healingincreasesthechanceof insect attacks and fungal decay entering the wound and spreading throughout thetree. Decay starts when a tree is topped.

Sunscald can occur. 
Sunscald, the effect of prolonged bright sun heating a tree’s trunk after it has been topped, kills tissue just below the bark directly. When freezing temperatures follow, the portion of that trunk can die. Bark tissues suddenly exposed to full sun may be burned, damaged, killed or develop disease cankers. Trees with thin bark such as maples, flowering cherries and crabapples are especially susceptible to sunscald.

Topping mutilates trees. 
The natural form and structure of the crown is altered. Unsightly branch stubs, large pruning scars and undesirable, vigorous branch growth (watersprouts) change the tree’s natural beauty and form. Topping drastically shortens the life of a tree. Topped trees are an eyesore in the landscape and will continue to be an eyesore as trees slowly decline.

Topping is a temporary solution. 
A topped tree will grow back to its original height, but its lovely, natural form is lost.Weakbrancheswillpromoteadditionalmaintenancecosts.

Topping Alternatives

Be sure to select the right tree and plant it in the right place on your property. If the tree is too large for the area where it is planted, remove the tree and replace it with a species that is a smaller size. There are many guidelines on selecting a tree of the correct size. Avoid sites where there are obstructions both above and below ground, including utility lines.

Prune the tree properly and as needed. Correct pruning procedures remove branches and thin the crown to reduce wind resistance and improve tree health without leaving branch stubs or changing the natural shape and balance of the tree. 


The experts agree – DON’T TOP YOUR TREE!

The practice of topping is not recommended and should be avoided at all costs. This destructive practice can lead to decay, storm damage and unsightly disfigurement of trees.

Thinning the crown of a tree with cuts made at branch collars is the proper pruning method for the long-term health of trees. Professional organizations including the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the National Arborist Association (NAA) and the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), consider the practice of tree topping as unacceptable.

Tree-topping is so widespread that many homeowners believe that the practice is the proper way to prune a tree. Unfortunately many tree service companiesstill top trees and homeowners allow them to continue. Be sure to investigate any tree care servicebefore hiring and inquire if the company engages in tree-topping. If a company advocates tree topping,look elsewhere right away! Though membership is a professional tree care organization does not guarantee quality, if a tree company maintains a membership in an organization such as TCIA or ISA, it indicates a commitment to the tree care profession and proper tree care practices. 

Arborist Nowis a member of both TCIA and ISA and we are committed to providing professional tree care services, including pruning and tree removal in San Francisco, Hillsborough, Alameda and surrounding areas. Contact us today!

Contact us today for our expert professional tree services & Tree recycling Hillsborough .
Phone:  1-415-310-7781
Address:  2025 Newcomb Ave., Unit C-3
San Francisco, CA 94124


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