Did you know Caretaker Landscape has 6 ISA Certified Arborists?

Have you noticed that ever since the big frost hit the valley, trees have started to look a little scary, like their tops are missing?  The Caretaker Tree Division would like you to be aware of this improper pruning technique, called “tree topping” that can leave your beautiful trees exposed to stress, disease, sun burn and decay.  

Proper Pruning                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


Improper Pruning


Why You Should NEVER Top Your Trees

Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice. 

What is Topping?

Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role.  Other names for topping include “heading,” “tipping,” “hat-racking” and “rounding over.”  The most common reason given for topping is to reduce the size of a tree.  People feel that their trees have become too large for their property.  People fear that tall trees may pose a hazard.  Topping, however, is not a viable method of height reduction and certainly does not reduce the hazard.  In fact, topping will make a tree more hazardous in the long term.

Topping Stresses Trees

Topping often removes 50 to 100 percent of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree.  Leaves are the food factories of a tree so removing them can temporarily starve a tree.  The severity of the pruning triggers a sort of survival mechanism. The tree activates latent buds, forcing the rapid growth of multiple shoots below each cut.  The tree needs to put out a new crop of leaves as soon as possible.  If a tree does not have the stored energy reserves to do so, it will be seriously weakened and may die.  A stressed tree is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations.

Topping Can Lead to Sunburn

Branches within a tree’s crown produce thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight.  When the leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are suddenly exposed to high levels of light and heat.  The result may be sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark, which can lead to cankers, bark splitting and death of some branches.

 Topping Causes Decay

The preferred location to make a pruning cut is just beyond the branch collar at the branch’s point of attachment.  The tree is biologically equipped to close such a wound, provided the tree is healthy enough and the wound is not too large.  Cuts made along a limb between lateral branches create stubs with wounds that the tree may not be able to close. The exposed wood tissues begin to decay.

Topping Creates Hazards

The survival mechanism that causes a tree to produce multiple shoots below each topping cut comes at great expense to the tree. These shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches. Unlike normal branches that develop in a socket of overlapping wood tissues, these new shoots are anchored only in the outermost layers of the parent branches. The new shoots grow quickly, as much as 20 feet in one year, in some species. Unfortunately, the shoots are prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions. The irony is that while the goal was to reduce the tree’s height to make it safer, it has been made more hazardous than before.

 Alternatives to Topping

Sometimes a tree must be reduced in height or spread.  Providing clearance for utility lines is an example.  There are recommended techniques for doing so.  If practical, branches should be removed back to their point of origin.  If a branch must be shortened, it should be cut back to a lateral that is large enough to assume the terminal role.  A rule of thumb is to cut back to a lateral that is at least one-third the diameter of the limb being removed.  This method of branch reduction helps to preserve the natural form of the tree.

With Caretaker Landscape’s 6 ISA Certified Arborists, you can rest assure your trees will be properly pruned and managed. 

To request for a Tree Pruning Proposal, Landscape Maintenance Proposal or if you have general landscape questions, please contact Jason Richard, our Director of Tree Management.