Consulting Arborist Corner- To top or not to Top?

An Arborist’s View of the Topping

This is an extreme example of topping!

Almost thirty years, ago Alexander Shigo, a world-renowned tree expert, started talking about the harm that was being done by topping trees. Yet we are still topping trees today.

National, State and Local tree organizations recommend against topping trees but the procedure is still seen throughout Indiana.

Topping is often used “to reduce the height of a tree”. This technique is antiquated, un-necessary and simply bad for your tree.

Many people think that topping a tree makes it “safer” by making it shorter. But in actuality, as the limbs grow out they are weak from the topping and fall more readily than if they were left in their natural state.

Five reasons not to top trees:

  • Stress:  Topping takes off so much of the tree crown that the tree is often starved for food due to the removal of foliage. A tree needs leaves for the photosynthesis process. Topping also exposes bark that has been protected from sunlight. This results in sunscald and more stress.
  • Insects & Diseases: Large stubs are left where the limbs were when a tree is topped. The tree has a very difficult time healing these wounds.  As a result, the stubs are vulnerable to insect and disease attacks and greater amounts of decay.
  • Weakened Limbs: When a scaffold limb is topped, epicormic sprouts grow to replace the missing foliage. These new sprouts are often not properly attached to the trunk, making the junction weak and more susceptible to decay and storm damage.
  • Ugly Trees: A topped tree is an unnatural, ugly sight. The tree will never be able to grow back to its natural state.
  • Expensive: The initial cost for topping is often more than the cost to properly prune the tree.  Also, in the long run, there can be hidden costs such as: increased future maintenance, and the removal and replacement cost if the tree dies. Potential liability due to the increased hazard of a weakly-attached limb is a factor as well.

Instead of topping, a tree should be properly pruned. Use a company with a Registered Consulting Arborist or a Certified Arborist on staff. A trained arborist will write his work specifications with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) specifications, when pruning, that are healthy for your tree and can achieve the look you want.  Some of these specifications are:

  • Crown Cleaning: removes the dead, diseased, and/or broken branches.
  • Thinning: removes selected branches to allow for better light penetration, air movement, and overall density.
  • Crown Reduction: reduces the height and/or spread of the tree of the tree by cutting it back to the lateral limbs properly. With proper pruning, the tree will maintain correct structure and will be able to thrive. (This is different from topping in that it removes no more than ¼ of the foliage and limbs are pruned to laterals).
  • Crown Raising: removes lower branches over sidewalks, roofs, etc.

“Consulting Arborist Corner” is brought to you by Jud Scott a Registered Consulting Arborist. As a Consulting Arborist, Jud is available to assist you with tree care and tree conflicts that may arise. 

~ by daniel on December 12, 2010.

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