Enjoy, respect, and preserve the forests of Vigo County
Don't Top Trees
What is topping? Topping is the removal of all the foliage and most of the branches of a tree.  Some people top trees when they grow too large.  There are "tree experts" who even recommend topping, especially because of the obvious new growth that follows.  However, as one arborist said, "Topping is the absolute worst thing you can do for the health of your tree."


Eight reasons NOT to "top"

1.  Starvation: Topping throws the ratio between the roots and the crown completely out of balance.  This temporarily prevents the tree from producing food.
2.  Shock: So much of the leaves are removed that the area around the tree is no longer shaded.  This may cause the bark to become scalded and may adversely affect surrounding trees and shrubs.
3.  Insects and Disease: The large cuts left by topping are hard for the tree to heal.  This leaves the trees vulnerable to attack from insects for decay fungi.
4.  Weak Limbs: The new limbs that sprout after topping are weaker than those that develop normally.
5.  Rapid New Growth: This is ironic, since topping is usually performed to reduce the size of the tree.  The tree produces more sprouts and quickly returns to its original size - with a more dense and dangerous crown.
6.  Tree Death: Some species do not recover well from topping.   Beeches, in particular, will almost certainly die as a result.
7.  Ugliness: As seen in the picture, topped trees detract from the landscape.  Even after the leaves return, the tree never regains its original beauty.
8.  Cost: It is easier for a worker to lop off all the branches.   Thus, the initial cost for topping is often lower than pruning.  However, the true costs of topping are hidden.  These include reduced property value, expense of removal and replacement if the tree dies, the loss of other trees and shrubs if they die as a result of the change in light conditions, the risk of liability from weakened branches, and the increased cost of future maintenance.

Time Topping Pruning

Year 1 The tree is an ugly stub. If pruned properly, the tree is now smaller, but retains the same form and beauty.
Year 3 The tree forms many sprouts and is now growing abnormally quickly.    The pruned tree grows more slowly and evenly.
Year 6 The tree is now as tall as it was before.        The pruned tree is safer, and its size is better controlled.
   It is also bushier and more dangerous.
Topping vs. Pruning


Alternatives to Topping

When the size and shape of a tree needs to be controlled, there are better ways than topping that do not ruin the beauty or usefulness of a tree.

- Plant trees so that they will fit into the available space.
- Properly prune a tree, beginning early in the life of the tree.
- Do not speed up the growth of a tree by using nitrogen fertilizers.
- Prune properly and regularly.  A light pruning every three years will keep the trees in a healthy condition.

Arborists know of many different techniques of pruning.  The best alternative to pruning is called drop-crotch pruning.  This technique, instead of lopping off all the branches, leaves a leader branch.  This leader branch prevents or reduces the bushy growth that follows topping.  Properly performed, the results are barely noticeable.  Drop-crotch pruning can reduce the size of a tree without changing its natural shape.
For more information

For more information about the negative consequences of topping and alternatives, contact:

TREES Inc.
P.O. Box 3683
Terre Haute, Indiana 47803
Phone: 812-462-3371

You can also contact the National Arbor Day Foundation at
National Arbor Day Foundation
100 Arbor Ave.,
Nebraska City, NE 68418

"What's Wrong With Topping Trees" at http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/fnr/Extension/pdfs/faq14w.pdf