Around the world, it is a common practice to cut down the top branches and the canopy of a tree when it gets too tall. Known as tree topping, this can do more harm than good to the trees. While your intentions are not to hurt your trees, sometimes it is possible that you inadvertently do so while topping. Hence it is necessary to understand the risks of this practice and what other appropriate alternative options are available to you.
This article discusses in detail why topping hurts trees. Read on to know more.
Topping of trees, as the name suggests, is the indiscriminate removal of the top branches and/or part of the tree trunk. This reduces the branches to mere stumps and the lateral branches are not enough to become the terminal leader. Topping is also referred to by other names like tipping, heading, rounding-over, and hat-racking.
People often top their trees when they feel that the tree height is posing a threat to their properties. However, it is not a viable solution and causes more stress to the trees in turn, thus increasing the future risks.
Yes, one of the main negative impacts of topping is the stress it causes to the trees. The removal of the crown means that a lot of leaves are taken down. An insufficient number of leaves lead to starvation and cause the tree to cope in other ways like untimely budding of shoots. The tree needs to have enough energy stores to grow new leaves and failure to do so can even cause death. Moreover, the wounds from topping make the trees susceptible to infections from pathogens and other insects. This causes further stress, especially if the trees are unable to fight back any infestation.
Crown reduction or crowning is not only different from topping but also a safer and healthier practice.
In this method, selected branches are removed carefully to reduce the tree height while maintaining its frame. The cuts are made using a technique called drop-crotch pruning. The branch reduction is done till the crotch formed by a lateral branch growth. This ensures that once the cut is made, the nutrition and water are redirected to this lateral branch and the tree does not weaken.
During crowning, the canopy is not pruned more than 25% of the original cover. This process results in faster healing and lesser stress in the trees.
Caring for trees, especially the big and old ones, is not an easy task. Trees are sensitive to their environments and it is prudent to take the help of a professional for services like pruning and crowning.
Hence it is always advisable to hire the services of a certified arborist when it comes to maintaining your trees in the best of their health.
There is always the possibility that topping results in the death of a tree. This is because, after the removal of the leaves and canopy through topping, the tree desperately tries to grow new leaves. It is crucial for the leaves to grow in order to prevent starvation as the leaves are the sources for food. However, if the tree does not have enough energy stores, to begin with, then the act of topping puts it in further stress and new leaves cannot grow. This ultimately often leads to the untimely death of the topped tree.
Topping usually causes large wounds in the trees where the cuts are made along the limb of the lateral branches. Unlike the cuts that are created in the case of crowning (as mentioned above), these wounds are often too large and difficult for the trees to heal. As a result, there can be decay of the exposed tissue parts.
While most trees can handle a single such wound by walking it off, they are not able to close multiple cuts caused by topping. As a result, decay begins to occur as the wounds allow pathogens and other organisms to enter and cause infection.
Topping leads to additional hazards like sunburn. Once the canopy is mostly removed, the heat and sunlight can reach the lower branches easily. This results in damage from sunburns like splitting of bark, cankers, and even branch death.
Another risk from topping is untimely budding. As a survival mechanism, the tree sprouts multiple shoots from the buds just adjacent to the area of the cut. These shoots are loosely attached to the outer layer of the bark and can reach the height of even 15-20 feet. This increases potential hazards as these branches are flimsy and can easily break off during poor weather conditions, thus increasing chances of limb failure.
All trees have their own pattern of branch and leaf growth, optimized for their own good. Topping interferes with this biological design and leaves the trees looking bare and disfigured. It destroys that natural beauty and makes the tree appear ugly for as long as it takes to form a new canopy of foliage.
Topping is a generally expensive exercise. While calculating the cost, you need to consider some sunken expenses along with the price for actually getting the tree topped. Some of the additional expenditure comes from the post-maintenance and pruning necessary in case the tree survives the topping. Others include the liability costs if the topped tree presents any potential risks for the future that needs to be taken care of urgently.
Often topped trees bring down the property value by 10-15% because of their disfigured look. That is also something that must be considered while topping trees.
Sometimes, it becomes absolutely necessary to reduce the height of trees for reasons related to safety or maintaining the line of sight. In such cases, a better alternative is to try removing the small branches so as to cause minimum impact. Another process is to opt for the crowning method, where the main branches are removed till the lateral branch crotch (provided lateral branches are 1/3rd the diameter of the main branch). This allows the tree to recover much easier.
If either of the above does not seem feasible, then consider removing and replanting the tree in a different location and grow some other plants in the area instead.
Trees are designed to grow tall, towards the sunlight. However, if it is absolutely necessary for you to arrest the increase in height, then you can opt for the following-