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How to NOT Top a Tree

By Contributor ; Updated September 21, 2017
How to NOT top a tree
Topped tree photo courtesy of the University of Florida

How many times have you seen a tree with all its limbs chopped back? This is called "topping". Topping is a common practice that is considered by professional arborists to be one of the worst things to do to a healthy tree. Here is some information on how NOT to top a tree.

It's important to understand what topping is in order to know why it is a practice that should be avoided. Usually topping is done to make a tree smaller. Hacking back all the branches to reduce the size of the tree weakens a tree and opens the tree to infection. Since it's easy to do, many people hire local, unlicensed tree services that offer tree topping and you can see it done frequently. This can lead tree owners to think that the practice is a good and accepted solution. Wrong. It's just a less expensive way to deal with an over-sized tree incorrectly.

Trees do not regenerate any limbs that are cut. Instead the wound, if not cut properly remains open and vulnerable. And just below the cuts long, thin fast growing shoots, often called water sprouts, branch wildly to replace the cut branch with long, crowded and rangy growth. In other words, topping trees may seem like it should make a tree smaller and nicely shaped, but instead, it hurts the health of the tree and creates a messy mass of uncontrolled growth that won't improve the tree in any way.

So, how do you NOT top a tree? The most obvious choice is to plant the right sized tree for the right location so you don't have to keep chopping it back. If you can enjoy a tree's natural growth habits you will free yourself from unnecessary maintenance while enjoying the natural beauty of your selected tree. Learn about the trees you like BEFORE planting them to find out if they are right for the areas where you want to use them.

If you already have a tree that is too big for its space, call in an arborist so you can decide the right way to prune your tree. Arborists can help you reduce the size of your tree with carefully selected, healthy pruning. Arborists may cost you more than having someone just come in and hack away at your tree. But consider the cost of having your tree die, removed and replaced. This will cost a lot more. A weak or dying tree can also harm structures, pets or even people if it breaks in the wrong place or at the wrong time. So have your trees properly pruned by a knowledgeable professional and do NOT top a tree! Best of all, select the right tree for the right location and you will never even have to consider the issue of tree topping!

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