What is Tree Topping

Topping is a more intensive form of pruning, in which a tree’s height is reduced either by removing larger limbs from the trunk, or by cutting the main body of the trunk to bring it down to a specific height. While there are many practical applications for tree topping, like pollarding (encouraging new/fresh growth) and coppicing (a more drastic form of pollarding), topping is not always a necessary practice for maintaining the health of a tree(s). Trees growing in residential areas, for example, can often be maintained without going to such lengths as topping, except perhaps when safety becomes an issue.

Popular Misconceptions About Tree Topping

Despite popular misconceptions surrounding the benefits of topping, most tree care companies only really recommend it as a last resort. Some of the more common misconceptions about topping are that it reduces the mess of leaves that will come down in the fall, and also the risk that the tree will fall over. Topping will, however, have the exact opposite effect in both cases: cutting down limbs or portions of the tree will only make it grow back stronger, leaving you with even more leaves to deal with, aside from the fact that you only have to worry about leaves falling for a few months out of the year.

As far as preventing a tree from falling, topping can actually result in a greater risk for falls because it can cause the weight of the trunk to become unbalanced. Even if a tree appears to be frail and dead and at risk of falling over, the only way to know for sure is to have a certified arborist assess for signs that indicate a weakened structural integrity. Remember, topping is often only done once all other options have been exhausted, so be sure to consult with a tree service professional before doing anything.

Tree Topping Can Be Risky

The reason topping is often left as a final course of action is because of the threat it poses to the life of the tree. Removing portions of the trunk can cause severe stress damage on the remaining body, putting it at risk of death. Removing too many leaves from the limb can also threaten the tree’s ability to sustain itself through photosynthetic processes, eventually causing the tree to literally starve to death. The process can also cause damage to the bark and leave the tree susceptible to excessive sun exposure, infestation, and infection by pathogenic organisms.

Remember, topping is a dangerous process that can threaten the life of the tree, and also the value of the property it lies on and any surrounding plant life that might be affected. Be sure to consult with a professional before deciding or attempting to do anything yourself.