Do You Know How Damaging Tree Topping Can Be?

July 3, 2017

Topping has long been regarded as an effective way to rejuvenate a tree. But is it really safe? In this blog post, we will discuss the ins and outs of topping while also presenting some effective alternatives.

What is topping?

This PDF developed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) explains that topping “is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or to lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role.” In the majority of cases, topping is used to reduce the size of a tree. For example, a homeowner may feel that topping is the only way to handle an overgrown tree in the yard. Keep in mind, however, that topping is anything but a safe method of height reduction and fails to reduce future risk. Believe it or not, topping actually increases risk down the road.

What are the dangers of topping?

  1. It stresses trees – Topping can eliminate 50 to 100 percent of a tree’s leaf-bearing crown. At first thought, it sounds like a huge time-saver in the fall to not have to spend hours raking. But removing them can temporarily starve a tree and trigger a number of survival mechanisms. Your tree might choose to activate its dormant buds, which forces the growth of multiple shoots below each cut. Just remember that a stressed tree with large, open pruning wounds is more vulnerable to disease and insect infestation.
  2. It leads to decay – What does the correct tree pruning methods entail? When you hire a tree company for pruning, they will make cuts just beyond the branch collar at the point of attachment. The tree is biologically capable of closing this type of wound as long as it’s healthy enough and the wound isn’t too large. On the other hand, cuts made along a limb between lateral branches create stubs with wounds that the tree will struggle to close. These exposed wood tissues begin to decay, giving these nasty organisms the chance to move down the branches and cause further damage.
  3. It can lead to sunburn – Just like we get burned without sufficient sunscreen, so too does a tree without thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight. When a tree’s leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are immediately exposed to high levels of heat and light. Sunburn of tissues beneath the bark can result in cankers, bark splitting, and death of some branches.
  4. It makes trees ugly – Take a moment to think of your favorite tree. Do the leaves burst with color? Do the branches expand in amazing fashion? Though trees consist of different shapes and growth habits, each shares the goal of showing their leaves to the sun. Not only does topping remove the ends of branches, but it leaves ugly stubs. Simply put, topping completely destroys a tree’s natural form that leaves us speechless. But without leaves, a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. Far too many homeowners and tree care services believe that a topped tree can fully regain its natural form. That notion is completely false in reality.     
  5. It’s expensive – Companies that offer tree topping usually don’t just have one set price for the service. For example, if the tree survives, you can almost bank on needing to bring someone back in a few years for pruning. Should the tree die, you’ll have to pay an additional cost for removal. That’s not all, though. Disfigured trees don’t appeal to potential home buyers one bit, so it’s reasonable to say that topping reduces your property’s value by a sizable chunk. Lastly, because topping is considered an unacceptable practice, any damage caused by the tree or its branches may lead to being found negligent in front of a judge.

Alternatives to topping

Now that you understand the dangers of topping, let’s dive into some alternatives that will maintain the health and safety of your tree:

  • Reduce the tree in height or spread
  • Remove small branches back to their point of origin
  • Prune larger limbs back to a lateral branch that’s large enough to assume the terminal role


When it comes to tree trimming and tree pruning, no company performs higher quality work than the professionals at Pro Tree. Since 1989, we’ve been the premier tree trimming service for those in Chicago. Our methods are always in accordance with ISA practices, so you never have to worry about the integrity of your tree being compromised. When you first contact us, we will do whatever we can trim or prune your tree so that it can continue to thrive. Unfortunately, sometimes the best solution is to remove the tree so that you can begin the process of replacing it with a species that’s more appropriate. In that case, we invite you to check out our tree removal service.

If you have any questions regarding our techniques, feel free to contact us.

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