Tree-Topping… The cost is greater than you think.
Posted: May 14, 2012
Healthy trees provide shade, reduce energy costs, prevent soil erosion, filter pollutants from the air and water, beautify our landscapes and increase property values.
“Some become concerned when trees grow large and worry that branches will fall down, causing property damage or harm”, says Vincent Cotrone, Penn State Urban Forester. “They feel trees must be shortened or “Topped” to make them safer”. In reality, tree topping hurts trees, shortens their lives and creates dangerous trees that will drop branches in the future. With proper care and maintenance, trees are safe.
Tree topping is the removal of large amounts of leaves and branches from a trees crown. In some cases all of the leaves and branches are removed, leaving large stubs where branches were cut.
“If you are topping a tree to make it smaller, DON’T”, says Cotrone. “It doesn’t work!” After a tree is topped, it grows back rapidly in an attempt to replace its missing leaves. Leaves are needed to manufacture food for the tree. Without new leaves the tree will die.
If you don’t want a tree to get too big, then it is best to remove the large tree and replant with a type of tree that doesn’t grow too tall. “You can’t “stop” trees from growing tall by topping”, says Cotrone. If you do succeed, you have killed them.
A tree’s leaves manufacture its food (Photosynthesis). Repeated removal of a tree’s food source literally starves the tree over time. When it is topped it must use stored food (reserves) to grow back new leaves and branches.
Topped trees are ugly. They lose their natural, majestic look once they are topped. The new growth of thin upright branches looks like a broom to some. The natural form and appearance that took years for the tree to grow can be destroyed forever in a few hours by an uninformed tree worker or landscaper who tops.
Topped trees become hazardous. According to Dr. Alex Shigo, world renowned scientist and author of books on the care of trees, topping is the most serious injury you can inflict upon your tree.
Topping creates un-safe trees in three ways.
1. It opens the tree up to an invasion of rotting organisms. A tree can defend itself from rot when proper cuts are made in relationship with branch collars. It cannot stop the spread of decay when it is topped. Rotted limbs or the entire tree may fall years after it was topped.
2. The new quick growing branches (or sprouts) are weakly attached and break easily in wind or snow storms- even many years later when they are large and heavy.
3. The thick re-growth of new branches (sprouts) caused by topping make the tree top-heavy and more likely to catch the wind. This increases the chance of storm winds blowing branches out of the tree. A tree can be properly pruned (thinned) to allow wind to pass through the branches.
When you think about it, the cost of Tree-Topping is greater than you think! “Once it is topped, a tree must be topped every few years and eventually must be removed when it dies or the owner gives up”, says Cotrone. “This will cost lots of money”. Proper pruning actually improves the health and beauty of a tree, needs less maintenance and costs less in the long run.
Think before You Top your tree. Get the facts. Contact your local Penn State Cooperative Extension office, DCNR Bureau of Forestry office, or visit www.patrees.org to obtain free tree care information. Hire an ISA Certified Arborist to care for your tree. They’ve received extensive training and passed a comprehensive exam on tree care practices. To learn more about arborist certification visit www.patrees.org or www.treesaregood.com.