Tree topping is perhaps one of the most damaging tree pruning practices we see happening today. According to the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), some homeowners and even some arborists believe this practice can stimulate tree growth, manage the size of a tree and minimize pruning costs. However, the risk of damage is far greater than any of the perceived benefits.

What is tree topping?

Tree topping is the practice of removing whole tops of trees or the cutting of main branches, which leaves behind stubs or lateral branches that are too small to assume the role as terminal leader. Tree topping, or topping for short, is also referred to as heading, dehorning, stubbing, hat-racking, rounding over or tipping.

How does tree topping damage trees?

Tree topping can cause a number of different issues for a tree:

  1. Tree topping reduces the food-making capacity of a tree. Trees need a large leaf surface area to make food and continue tree growth. Topping deals a major blow to a tree’s food-making capabilities.

  2. This practice causes open wounds that may not heal. According to, the tree is biologically equipped to close such a wound, provided the tree is healthy enough and the wound is not too large. But, cuts made along a limb between lateral branches create stubs with wounds that the tree may not be able to close.

  3. Topping exposes more of the bark to the sun, which can lead to severe bark damage.

  4. It can create a hazard because the weakened stubs are prone to wind and storm breakage because they usually begin to die and decay.

  5. While it may seem like a cheap alternative in the beginning, tree topping can actually cost much more than hiring a professional for proper pruning and maintenance. If the tree survives it will likely require more corrective pruning over the years, it can reduce your property value because disfigured trees are considered an impending expense, and it could prove to be a liability in a court of law if branches fail and cause any collateral damage.

  6. Topping makes for ugly trees. Tree topping disfigures trees and destroys their natural form.

What are the reasons for topping?

Usually, tree topping happens when a tree has reached an undesirable height and size, or if the branches are interfering with utility lines, solar collectors, or perhaps are providing too much shade in a garden area.

Are there any alternatives?

It’s true that some trees, with proper maintenance, can recover following topping. However, the uncertainty of the damage tree topping could cause should be enough to convince you to consider other options.

For newly planted trees, proper pruning maintenance should start at the beginning. This will help you avoid the need for any drastic measures later on. For mature trees, drop-crotching is the preferred method of heavy pruning. Drop-crotching can be done by a professional arborist and is a type of thinning cut that reduces a tree's size while preserving its natural shape.

The bottom-line? Tree topping may seem like an inexpensive and easy way to reduce a tree’s size, but in reality, you could be doing more damage than you realize.

At Precision Landscape & Tree we employ experienced and qualified arborists for all our pruning services. If you have questions, get in touch with us at 651-484-2726.

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