Tree Topping

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Tree Planting and Care Tips

Proper tree care may seem like a mystery to some. Plant a tree and nature will take care of the rest, right?

That may be true in some rural forests, but in your yard and your community, trees need a special kind of care. Trees need to be protected from people. Trees in our neighborhood contribute to the quality of our lives and make our communities more livable. Urban trees clean our air, cool and shade our homes, and increase the value and attractiveness of our community.

Below are tips on how to make your yard safe for trees. Learning about proper tree care can prevent you from becoming your tree's worst enemy.

Do Not Top Your Trees

Topping is the senseless practice of indiscriminately removing a majority of a tree's branches. Topping violates most commonly accepted methods of proper pruning; it is an assault on the health and beauty of your trees.

Cut TreeFive important facts to remember about tree topping are:

  1. Topping will not make trees safe; it actually creates hazardous trees.
  2. Topping makes a tree more susceptible to storm damage.
  3. Topping makes a tree more prone to insect and disease problems.
  4. Topping is abuse, vandalism, dangerous, expensive, mutilation, ugly.
  5. Topping is a waste of money.
Problems Caused by Topping
  • New growth is weak. At best, the wood of a new limb that sprouts after a larger limb is cut is more weakly attached than a limb that develops more normally. If rot exists or develops at the severed end of the limb, the weight of the sprout makes a bad situation even worse.
  • Rapid new growth. The goal of topping is usually to control the height and spread of a tree. Actually, it has the opposite effect. The resulting sprouts are far more numerous than the normal new growth, and they elongate so rapidly that the tree returns to its original height in a very short time.
  • Insects and disease. The large stubs of a topped tree have a difficult time forming a callus. The terminal location of these cuts, as well as their large diameter, prevent the tree's chemically based natural defense system from doing its job. The stubs are highly vulnerable to insect invasion and the spores of decay fungi.
  • Sunscald can occur. Bark tissues suddenly exposed to full sun may be burned and develop into disease cankers.
  • Starvation. Good pruning practice is to remove no more than one-third of the crown, which does not seriously interfere with the ability of a tree's leafy crown to manufacture food. Topping removes so much of the crown that it upsets an older tree's well-developed crown-to-root ratio and temporarily cuts off its food-making ability.

Alternatives to Topping

Plant the tree in the right spot.
Make sure you know the mature size of the tree you are planting before you plant it. This will eliminate the problem of a tree getting too big for the area that was intended. If you already have a tree that is too big for the site, there is a proper pruning technique called crown reduction.

Crown reduction is an alternative to topping large trees.
Crown reduction is accomplished by removing larger branches at the top or side of the tree. Branches are removed above a lateral branch that will increase in size after cutting. Stubs are not left on this pruning job.

In rare cases, it may be best to simply remove the tree.