What is Tree Topping, and Why is it Bad?

Reading time: 5 minutes

We understand that sometimes the trees on your property are getting too big and out of control, and cutting them back down to size can quickly become a chore. Despite tree topping being a seemingly simple way to solve the issue, cutting trees in this way can also be hugely detrimental.

If you’re a homeowner, it’s essential to understand this practice and how to avoid it so your trees stay healthy for a long time. Read on to learn more about topping and how it affects trees.

What is Tree Topping?

Tree topping is a form of tree cutting that aims to reduce the size of a tree by removing either the whole top or larger branches. While the reasons for topping a tree are valid, the practice remains harmful to trees.

Reasons for tree topping include:

  • The tree has grown too large for its surroundings.
  • The tree is interfering with electrical wires or other integral structures.
  • The tree is blocking sunlight in the backyard.
  • The tree is blocking a view.
  • The tree is at risk of being brought down by extreme weather.

Tree topping is a fairly straightforward task. It involves an arborist or tree surgeon cutting off the top of a tree trunk and the upper branches, usually in a straight line, so the tree's height is level. This tree cutting results in between 50 and 100 percent of a tree's crown being removed, which may lead to health issues.

Why is Tree Topping Bad?

Whatever the reason for tree topping, it’s a damaging process that causes stress to trees. Once a tree has been topped, its ability to grow and stay healthy is lessened. Instead of a strong trunk and branches, it is more likely that weak, fragile, upright branches, also known as water sprouts, will grow.

This occurs because dormant buds are stimulated into growth when other branches are pruned. With additional pruning, more of these buds will sprout. That’s because, unlike regular branches that develop in a socket of overlapping wood tissues, these new shoots are anchored only in the outermost layers of the parent branches. Therefore, they’re far more likely to break off and fall during a storm.

These weaker branches open the tree to higher decay rates, disease, and harmful insects. The optimal pruning process involves cutting a branch that attaches to the trunk, allowing the tree to close the wound. Cutting in the middle of the branch makes healing more difficult. This leaves the tree the perfect environment for pests and diseases to flourish.

Removing the protective barrier of leaves at the top of a tree also means it’s more susceptible to sunburn, which can lead to cankers, bark splitting, and even the death of some branches. You’ll want to avoid this, especially during dry, hot summer months when the risk is higher.

Part of a tree showing cut branches

Alternatives to Tree Topping

As mentioned, there are many valid reasons to reduce the size of a tree, whether it’s purely cosmetic or more practical. But what’s the best course of action when topping hurts trees?

There are ways of pruning trees sustainably. Selective pruning focuses on removing dead, diseased, or broken branches. Then your tree can put energy into healthy new growth, reducing the chances of decay spreading. Additionally, you’ll achieve a smaller, tidier-looking tree without risking its overall health by reducing its size and density.

Another alternative is crown reduction, a process used when a tree becomes too large for the space it inhabits. Reduction done this way allows the trees to maintain a natural appearance and remain protected from disease and decay. Generally, this process is considered a low-stress technique for tree cutting.

Crown thinning is similar to crown reduction, but branch removal is more targeted. Thinning aims to increase light and airflow through the tree’s crown. This method allows the tree to keep its natural shape and structure.

Not sure which option is best for you and your trees? Feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation, and we’ll help guide you through the process with a tree risk assessment.

The Benefits of Proper Tree Care

A tree that’s well cared for can live for many years. Some trees are even thousands of years old. If you want your trees to look their best, choose alternative tree-cutting techniques to keep the trees in your yard healthier for longer.

Aside from the health benefits, using alternatives to tree topping means your trees look better, so your yard will impress neighbours and visitors. You want to avoid your trees being in bad because it can decrease the value of a property. Keeping up with this curb appeal is essential if you plan on selling your home.

Most importantly, avoiding tree topping will mean a safer yard for you and your family. Regular pruning removes damaged branches and tree limbs growing toward human structures or power lines. You avoid high costs and injury by caring for these issues in a cycle.

Green Drop Can Help With All Your Tree Needs

The team at Green Drop understands the importance of healthy trees. You want them to look great and safe to be around. That’s why we’ve built a team of certified arborists that can answer any questions about tree care and tree health.

Our more than 20 years of experience give us the ability to offer a range of tree care services to ensure your trees are kept in top condition all year round. No matter the yard or need, we have skilled ISA arborists and state-of-the-art equipment to keep your trees beautiful.

Reach out to us today to get a free estimate!

Schedule Your Free Tree Care Assessment