Tree topping (Bad practice)

Topping is a historical malpractice pruning technique which is generally no longer used by qualified arborists. It is not considered an acceptable practice with the possible exception of hedge reduction.

Topping involves the indiscriminate cutting back of all branches at the top of a tree to an arbitrary height leaving stubs. It is a common misconception that topping a large tree will make it safer. The truth is that topping will make a tree much more hazardous. While there are viable methods of height reduction, “topping” is not one of them.

Increased tree stress

Because topping generally removes large amounts of foliage, sometimes up to 100% of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree, it puts a huge strain on the tree’s health by temporarily starving it. At this point the tree will either die or start producing vigorous, fast growing epicormic growth from the stubs and trunk that is left. The large wounds left by topping will also allow ingress of insects and disease into the tree’s heartwood putting further stress on the tree.

Ugly Trees

Topping will also make your trees ugly. Once topped the natural form and beauty of a tree is lost forever and can never be recovered. Instead you are left with an eyesore with the dense unnatural growth often resembling upside-down witches brooms. The image to the top right shows an oak that has been mutilated by topping

Increased growth

This new growth brings with it further problems. Firstly, it grows much faster than normal branches, sometimes up to several meters per year. The tree will often outgrow the original size it was before topping in just a year or two. The second problem is that these new limbs are only attached to the outside of the trunk or stub rather than the centre like a normal branch. This make the attachment of these new limbs very weak and they often break off in the wind once the reach a certain size.

The small gum shown to the bottom right was heavily topped and, although it survived and to the untrained eye appeared to be fine, a large section of the new grown has broken off at the base. Luckily, this tree was still small when this happened so no damage was caused by the failure. However, the same thing can and does happen with larger branches.

False economy

There are also a number of hidden costs involved with topping. The original price to have the work done may be cheaper and people often feel they are getting a better deal because they are getting more of the tree cut off for less money. However, don’t be fooled. The tree will need to be re-topped next year and every year following as it now grows many time faster than it had previously.

If the tree dies it will need to be removed and the mere presence of a topped or disfigured tree can devalue your property. The risk of property damage through limb failure and the associated costs are also increased.

Tree-King-Broken-topped-gum
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It was a ridiculously hot day and they worked virtually nonstop to get the job completed. It was done exactly as agreed, all timber stacked and manageable and the left tidy.

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