Why Topping is Not Healthy for Your Trees

A Touch of Class Tree ServiceWhy Topping is Not Healthy for Your Trees wants you to understand why topping is not healthy for your trees, and the extreme damage it may cause with irreversible circumstances. We understand the need to prune or “clean up” the look of mature trees and shrubs in your yard, especially for aesthetic purposes or the fact that the tree is obstructing something, but we think you should leave this task to the professional arborist who knows what is best for your landscape and trees.


Tree topping is most often desired to reduce the size of a tree. It is the cutting of tree branches or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the end role, typically to the stubs. The other names associated with this procedure are “heading,” “rounding over,” “tipping,” and much more, depending on where you are from.



STRESS: No one likes stress, and neither do our trees! This act alone can remove 50 to 100 percent of the tree’s leaf-bearing crown, that is a huge portion of the trees livelihood! Leaves are how your tree keeps healthy, nourished and rich in color. Removing or topping them can starve a tree and trigger various survival mechanisms, such as, the dormant buds will awaken and be activated, forcing the rapid growth of multiple shoots below each cut. The tree then feels the need to put out a new crop of leaves as soon as possible as it is going into a state of fear and panic.

If a tree does not have the stored energy reserves to do so, it will be severely weakened and is at serious risk of dying. A stressed tree with large pruning wounds is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations as well as other attacks such as molds and fungus. The tree may lack sufficient energy to chemically defend the wounds against invasion, and believe it or not, some insects are attracted to the chemical signals trees release! So, there you have a recipe for disaster!

DECAY: If you want to prune your tree correctly, cuts are to be made just beyond the branch collar, where it attaches. The tree is adapted, and able to close such a wound when this happens provided the tree is healthy, and the wound not too big. If a cut is made along a limb between lateral branches, this creates stubs with wounds that the tree may not be able to close; exposing wood tissues that could begin to decay. Very few trees can defend the severe wounds caused by topping, and the decay organisms will find a way to freely move down through the branches, destroying everything in its path.

SUN EXPOSURE: Who knew that our precious trees could also suffer severely from the damages the sun emits? Branches within a tree’s crown produce thousands of leaves absorbing sunlight, so when you top your tree, you remove vital leaves that provide protection and nourishment to the tree. Those remaining branches and trunk are suddenly exposed to high levels of light and heat, which can result in sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark, and lead to cankers, bark splitting, and even death.

RISKY BUSINESS: When a tree must turn to survival mode to produce multiple shoots below each topping cut, it comes at an enormous expense to the tree. These shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches and are anchored solely in the outermost zones of the parent branches which are weakly attached. The new shoots grow very fast in one year in some species and are prone to breaking, especially during windy, icy, or stormy conditions. So, while your intention was to reduce risk by reducing height, the risk of limb failure has now very substantially increased.

UNSIGHTLY: Beyond why topping is not healthy for your trees, the look of a topped of tree is not great to look at. The shape and structure of a trees natural growing path is an amazing wonder, with their only goal being to get their leaves as much sun and nourishment as possible. Topping removes the ends of the branches, leaving ugly stubs, and it destroys the natural form of a tree. Without leaves, a topped tree looks butchered and sick, but with leaves, it is a packed green ball of foliage, that is beautiful and rich to your landscape. A tree that has been topped can never fully regain its natural form.

EXPENSIVE: Tree topping is not generally in the cheap range, it requires a lot of equipment, safety procedures, and experienced crews. Because not only do you have the cost of the actual job itself, there are other factors to consider such as:

  • Increased maintenance costs: If the tree survives, it will most likely need corrective pruning within just a few years. If the tree dies, it must be removed.
  • Reduced property value: Healthy, well-maintained trees can add 10 to 20 percent to the value of the property. If you are plan on selling in the future, you may want to hold off on your tree topping.
  • Increased liability: Topped trees may pose a level of risk. Because topping is considered an unacceptable pruning practice, any damage caused by branch failure of a topped tree may lead to negligence in a court of law.



At times, it is necessary to top a tree, that is understandable. Some instances would be if utility lines need to be put in, or it is obstructing something or could be a hazard to a home or building. If possible, it is best to try and remove the tree and replace it. Or have a professional do some light tree trimming to help allow the tree to choose a different direction of growth.

It is important to know why topping is not healthy for your trees, and at A Touch of Class Tree Service, we understand the concerns of our clients, and we take into consideration the best options for your trees in all situations. Our professional arborists have a keen eye and skilled regimen for topping trees if necessary, but we will always try to maintain and retrain your trees before resorting to that option. If you have any questions, have us sit down and discuss other options available to your situation.

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