Myths of Tree Topping

MYTH: “Topping invigorates a tree.”

Truth: Topping immediately decreases the tree’s health and starts it on a downward spiral.

  1. DECAY – Decay starts when the tree is topped. Even strongly angled cuts will never heal completely.
  2. SUNSCALD – Trees do not enjoy prolonged bright sun reaching the branches. After a tree has been topped the tender tissue just below the bark may become sunscalded causing the bark to fall off.
  3. FOOD PRODUCTION LOSS – Removing a large portion of a trees crown greatly slows the trees ability to feed it’s own wood parts i.e., stems and roots.
  4. EXCESS RESPROUTING – As a consequence of food losses, the tree as an emergency measure, resprouts very thick and fast.
  5. DISEASE & INSECT ATTACK – Heavy resprouting, decay, sunscald and food production loss, make the tree more susceptible to problems with insects and disease.
  6. ROOT WEAKENING & DECAY – Loss of food resources in the form of carbohydrates impairs the roots defense system eventually causing root rot.
  7. POSSIBLE DEATH OR SHORTENED LIFE SPANS – Some trees will not tolerate topping and may die. All survivors will have reduced life spans.

MYTH: “Topping reduces storm damage.”

Truth: Topping increases storm damage potential.

  1. RESPROUTING IS QUICK – Topped trees regain their original height sometimes in 2 to 4 years. Many trees will end up taller than if they had not been topped.
  2. RESPROUTS ARE WEAK – These quickly grown limbs are much easier to break than a comparable size limb in normal growth situations.
  3. RESPROUTS ARE WEAKLY ATTACHED – Topped trees many times break off where the sprouts attach to the tree.
  4. DIEBACK – Dieback of entire limbs and leads create dangerous storm situations.
  5. RESPROUTING IS VERY DENSE – Topped trees, after the first year, become so thick that they actually resist the wind more than they would have had they been left alone.
  6. ROOT ROT – Topped trees have weakened roots, losing some of the trees structural strength.
  7. LOSS OF SIDE LIMBS – Side limbs on natural trees will catch a falling tree, many times preventing major damage. Topped trees without side limbs and with the other factors present (heavy weak growth root decay, etc.) can be very dangerous in strong winds.
  8. LIABILITY CONCERNS – Improperly pruned trees, such as topped trees, can make property owners and arborists liable if those trees cause body or property damage.

MYTH: “A Topped tree is easier to maintain.”

Truth: Topped trees are a pain in the … yard.

  1. TWIG DROP – After the first year topped trees begin dropping the excess growth caused by the topping. Property owners will, for the life of the tree, always be picking up sticks which have lost out to the competition.
  4. LOSS OF SHADE – In the first year or two.
  5. LOSS OF SUNLIGHT – After the tree becomes so dense very little light can filter through to the other plant materials such as the turf.

MYTH: “Topped trees are so pretty, they add value to the landscape.”

Truth: Topped trees lack natural beauty and subtract value from the landscape.

  1. Studies show the dollar value which mature tree cover adds to the vacant land, developed lots and to city streets. Although no research yet shows that topped trees would decrease the landscapes value, real estate appraisers agree that topped trees may, at least, negatively affect a property’s marketability.
  2. Topping a tree destroys the natural limb structure. The distinct beauty found in each tree species is brought to naught by the tree toppers hand.


Dehorning is tree butchery, never use it

John Baumgardt, How to Prune Almost Everything, Your Content Goes Here

Unprofessional tree maintenance crews sometimes prune using a method referred to as ‘tree topping’

Kansas State University, All About Pruning, Your Content Goes Here

It is better to remove and replace a tree than to have it topped.

Illinois Department of Conservation, Pruning Trees, Your Content Goes Here

It is interesting to note that storm damage to trees can, many times be traced to earlier topping or other poor pruning practices

Missouri Department Of Conservation, letter to tree owners, Your Content Goes Here

One activity that is commonly confused with pruning is tree topping. It is one of the worst things to do to a tree both visually and for the health of the tree.

James Rocca, Urban Forestry Specialist, Missouri Department of Conservation, Your Content Goes Here